Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Taming of The Shrew"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark


"The Taming of The Shrew"

Adapted and Dirtected by Andrei Serban
from a play by William Shakespeare

Scenic Design by Christine Jones
Costume Design by Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design by Michael Chybowski
Sound Design by Christopher Walker

Christopher Sly..............Harry S. Murphy
Hostess/Curtis...............Patricia Kelley
Tapster......................Justin Campbell
"Lord"/Tailor.......Dmetrius Conley-Williams
"Lady".......................Sophia Fox-Long
"Huntsman"/Haberdasher..........Leopold Lowe
"Huntsman"........................Scott Lucy
"Huntsman".......................Robert Ross
"Huntsman"......................Kevin Varner
Silver (the dog)......Luca Lucretia Azzolina
"Page" (as a woman)/Pedant......Remo Arnaldi
Lucentio......................Scott Harrison
Tranio........................Benjamin Evett
Gremio............................Will Lebow
Katharina...................Kristin Flanders
Hortensio.....................Jason Weinberg
Bianca.........................Caroline Hall
Petruchio.........................Don Reilly
Grumio..........................Stephen Rowe
Vincentio........................Jerry Flynn
Widow..........................Shadya Ballog

Andrei Serban's show at the Amertican Repertory Theatre is made out of a lot of interesting theatrical building-blocks. Most of the score for "Kiss Me Kate" is there, for instance --- though it comes over loudspeakers, without any of the book, and none of the songs is ever allowed to finish. There's a mock wrestling-match that is funnier but less fake than anything you'll see at the Fleet Center, and better choreographed. There is knockabout, and slapstick, there is dumb-show and send-up, there's cross-dressing that looks as though some actors thought they were doing "The Bacchae" tonight, there is mime and circus and tumbling and twirling and lushly overproduced Sinatra and a delightfully well-trained dog and hammy imitations of Brando and Schwarzennegger and then, after two and three-quarter hours of tricks and gimmicks and cutsies Mr. Serban leaves one small, lonely actress achingly isolated on stage to deliver what is currently the most controversial speech of the entire play without a shred of help or preparation from anything that has gone before. Her name is Kristin Flanders, and the speech is more an aria than anything else, but it is the one moment in the entire evening in which, no tricks, any honest human sense is made out of what survives of William Shakespeare's "The Taming of The Shrew".

Serban's approach seems to be to bury Shakespeare's text in irrelevant and puzzling detail, rather than to face any of its problems head on. He uses "The Induction" in which a Lord and a bunch of Hunters stumble on Christopher Sly sleeping off a drunk, and jokingly make Sly think he is a rich lord waking from his dream-life as a tinker to see his first play. But why is the Lord a Black pimp with a briefcase full of money, and his entourage a fleeing bunch of gunsels with drawn pistols and shades? Why does the A.R.T.'s bus & truck tour of "The Taming of The Shrew" that happens by physicalize everything, even to mass miming of spoken dialog as though the audience were too stupid to get the gist unaided? What are spectators to think of Petruchio in white dress and veil and a long red-haired wig come to marry a Katharina wearing a white pants-suit? Why are Lucentio and Tranio always passionately kissing one another? Why are so many interesting lines cut, and why with all those cuts does the whole shebang last till 11:10 at night? Is all that elaborate shell-game really necessary, or is it just an attempt to hide the text? And what is Serban's "Adaptation" really all about, anyway, except bombastic spectacle?

The team of Kristin Flanders and Don Reilly who lit up "Man And Superman" with their lively originality are reunited here as Katharina and Petruchio, but it's two full hours of posturing and gimmicks before they relate to one another as human beings. The whole cast is hard-working and dutiful in executing all the intricately frivolous business and breakneck choreography Serban tosses into this salad, but if it's about anything it's about not being about about anything. None of the bits is ever related, or explained, or sustained.

It may well be that, a few years down the road, Andrei Serban will actually quit farting around and do the really hard work of trying to make a production of "The Taming of The Shrew" that will be relevant to the last days of this millennium.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Love,
===Anon.


"The Taming of The Shrew" (till 21 March)
AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE
Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE
1(617)547-8300

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