By Tulis McCall
The Taming of The Shrew, The Shakespeare in the Park’s opening gambit of the summer season at the Delacorte Theater, could easily be called The Janet McTeer Show. And that would not be such a bad idea.
As conceived by Phyllida Lloyd, this is an all female cast. An unusual choice – an acquaintance of mine asked if it was “the lesbian show” he heard about – but not unreasonable. The original actors several centuries ago were all men, so why not flip that idea on its head? And why not do it with one of the most challenging of texts, made more so by the prospect of a female president. Katherina (Cush Jumbo) is a young woman who sees on which side the bread is buttered and will have none of it. The problem is that her younger sister Bianca (Gayle Rankin) is sought after by everyone and his (in this case her) uncle. Before she can be married off, however, her father Baptista (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) decides that, as custom dictates, the older child must be married. A husband must be found, and this shrew must be tamed.
This production is presented as a pageant with the grand prize being the title of Miss Lombardi. The show opens with the contestants being introduced by a sound-alike Donald Trump voice (Oskar Eustis perhaps?) that announces the “unbelievable” attributes of each “girl”. This device is not mentioned again until the final scene.
Although everyone wants Kate wed, none is willing to step up to the plate until good old Petruchio (McTeer) arrives on the scene. McTeer blows into town like a slightly off kilter cross between Rod Steward and Gary Cooper. She is lean and perhaps mean, but certainly up for an adventure. And Kate is all of that. This is a loud, snarling, scrappy Kate who resents not only every man she sees but the very fact that she is trapped inside a woman’s body. Petruchio takes on this challenge like a man who has not eaten in a month. This is wooing through deprivation, until Kate bends under his will and becomes tamed.
As for being tamed, Ms. Jumbo does not quite deliver. It may be a directorial choice because in the final-final (spoiler alert) this Kate recants her conversion and is swept into the nether regions of Padua. This Kate fights for her dignity and loses the crown. No matter – there is another girl in the wings.
It is obvious that this production has been carefully constructed. There are the bookends of the beauty pageant. It has also been condensed into two hours with no intermission. Judy Gold (Gremio) is given the task of explaining in a stand-up routine that there were cuts made, and PS what is up with women these days anyway??? She pulls it off just fine, but it is an odd insertion.
The women playing men are bound and hatted throughout. At times the suites overlap and it is difficult to tell who is whom. Bianca and Katherina are locked into Barbie outfits. Whether knowingly or not, the costumes seem to bind these actors in more ways than one. Only McTeer is free of headgear, binding or zippers. This may be in part why she is so loose and free in her performance. McTeer brings swagger, spark and bounce to the evening. This Petruchio loves life and all its juicy offerings. This Petruchio is a person you want to be when you grow up.
The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare; directed by Phyllida Lloyd
WITH: Candy Buckley (Vincentio), Donna Lynne Champlin (Hortensio/Musician), Rosa Gilmore (Lucentio/Musician), Judy Gold (Gremio), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Baptista), Cush Jumbo (Katherina), Teresa Avia Lim (Biondello), Janet McTeer (Petruchio), Adrienne C. Moore (Tranio), Anne L. Nathan (Pedant/Musician), Gayle Rankin (Bianca), Pearl Rhein (Officer/Musician), Leenya Rideout (Widow/Musician), Jackie Sanders (Servant/Musician), Stacey Sargeant (Grumio) and Natalie Woolams-Torres (Servant).
Sets and costumes by Mark Thompson; lighting by Robert Wierzel; sound by Mark Menard; hair and wig design by Leah J. Loukas; music supervision/music by Sam Davis; fight director, Lisa Kopitsky; movement director, Ann Yee; production stage manager, Cole Bonenberger; associate artistic director, Mandy Hackett; associate producer, Maria Goyanes; general manager, Jeremy Adams; production executive, Ruth E. Sternberg. A Shakespeare in the Park production, presented by the Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Patrick Willingham, executive director. Through June 26 at the Delacorte Theater, Central Park at 81st Street, Manhattan; 212-539-8500, publictheater.org. Running time: 2 hours.