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A CurtainUp Review: The Taming of the Shrew

CurtainUp - October 20, 2012

By Deirdre Donovan

The Frog and Peach Theatre Company has just blown in to the West End Theater with a gutsy new production of The Taming of the Shrew. Although the drunken tinker Christopher Sly and the topsy-turvy Induction are nowhere in sight and Shakespeare's imaginary Padua has been transferred to a Felliniesque landscape of the early 1960s, the main piece remains intact: a raucous battle of the sexes in which a woman wins by swallowing her pride and surrendering to the man she loves.

Either you like this play or you don't. Shakespeare's contemporaries weren't impressed by the farce, written in or around 1593, and first staged in the Newington Butts Theatre in London on June 11, 1594. They preferred his more historical plays that focused on real crowns, personages, and England's bloody civil wars. The twentieth-century poet and critic W. H. Auden dismissed it as "the only play of Shakespeare's that is a complete failure," with only Titus Andronicus giving it competition for worst work of the canon. Theatergoers today (including staunch feminists) tend to see it in a more generous light, and to enjoy it for its broad comedy, and as the inspiration for the musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Why the Frog and Peach Theatre Company has chosen to present it is probably the same reason that Classic Stage Company decided to mount their own polished production last season: It's a sure-fire crowd-please that has aged well over the centuries, been revived countless times on stage and screen, and seems to be always morphing into a new-fangled version.

Shakespeare borrowed from Gascoigne's 1566 translation of Ariosto's Italian I Suppositi for his Bianca sub-plot. Beyond that, it's difficult to pin down the sources. Some scholars speculate that Katherina is a comic portrayal of Elizabeth I, who was, if not every inch a "shrew," recognized as a very shrewd woman. Royalty aside, this early comedy has even been compared to The Ugly Duckling, with bad girl Katherina eventually moulting into the good wife. There's no doubt that it continues to invite a constellation of interpretations, largely because of its sexual politics and its controversial perspective of marriage.

The current production is lively, the central characters well-cas and tightly directed by Lynnnea Benson. Though some of the supporting role performers lack Shakespearean chops, the lead actors take the iambic pentameters in stride and kick up some serious fun in Padua. Amy Frances Quint as Katherina is capable of portraying, in turns, a shrew and submissive wife. Erick Gonzalez, playing opposite her as Petruchio, pours on the machismo and a dash of charm. There's a fine gender-bending performance by Vivien Landau, as the gentlewoman Baptista.

Not to be overlooked is Alexandra Poncelet Del Sole, as the supposedly demure Bianca. Though she plays the cry baby early on, Poncelet Del Sole's Bianca becomes more than a foil for Katherina here. She rightly gains a haughty edge in Act 3, Scene 1, first flirting with Lucentio and then rejecting Hortensio. Bianca has three suitors on a string in this play, and Poncelet Del Sole deftly handles each would-be lover.

The Frog and Peach Theatre Company is one of the most durable and best-kept secrets in the New York theater community. Whether it is mounting one of the Bard's familiar, or not-so-familiar, works, you can bet the actors and creative team will deliver the Shakespearean goods. This Shrew is no exception, and it won't break your wallet either.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Directed by Lynnea Benson
Cast: Jonathan Reed Wexler (Lucentio), Lenny Ciotti (Tranio), Brando Boniver (Biondello), Baptista (Vivien Landau), Amy Frances Quint (Katherina), Alexandra Poncelet Del Sole (Bianca), Ilaria Amadasi (The Widow), Eric Doss (Hortensio), David Elyha (Gremio), Erick Gonzalez (Petruchio), Ryan Dreyer (Grumio), Alan Altschuler (Vincentio), J. B. Alexander (A Pedant), Philip Oros (Valentine), Joseph Urick (Arturo), Sergio Diaz (Gianni), Walter E. Tucker (Antonio), Ruth Guimera (Sofia).
Sets: Andy Estep
Costumes: Asa Benally
Music: Ian McDonald
Lighting: Duane Pagano
Stage Manager: Christal Vassilyadi
Combat Choreography: Marcus Watson
West End Theater at 263 West 86th Street. Tickets: $18. Phone 212/868-4444 or online
From 10/11/12; opening 10/14/12; closing 11/04/12.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday @ 7:30pm; Sunday matinee @ 3pm.
Running time: 1 hour; 45 minutes with one intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 10/19/12