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REVIEW: "The Taming of the Shrew"

Photo by April Porterfield
Jodi Nestander (Katharina) and Sean Eckart (Petruchio) in Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park's perfromance of "The Taming of the Shrew."
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- You can’t accuse Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park of dodging tough tasks. The company has opened its 33rd season with one of the Bard’s most confounding plays to stage today, The Taming of the Shrew.

Directors have to deal with the Shrew problem. A man starving and abusing a woman to “tame” her is about as unpalatable to today’s audiences as you can get.

In this production, director Caprice Woosley has handled the matter through casting. Shakespeare doesn’t specify the title character’s years, but she’s marrying age, so that would be mid-twenties in the Elizabethan era (the teenage Juliet is an exception). Petruchio, her suitor, could be older.

Woosley has cast Jodi Nestander as Kate and Sean Eckart as Petruchio. I don’t know Nestander’s and Eckart’s ages, but I think they are well north of their mid- twenties (although you could describe both as “youthful in spirit”).

Plus, Nestander is no shrinking violet. She’s an actor of experience and stature. Thus, early in the play, her shrewishness comes off more as strong will rather than youthful impetuousness. You can decide for yourself whether Woosley’s approach works. To me, it does, but the production has other issues.

Woosley sets the play in “Present Day . . . and yet not Present Day.” In comedies, costumes do much to establish characters, so this present-day/not- present-day thing is seen mainly in the costumes (by Andy Wallach). They look like whatever period costumes could be scrounged up in OSP’s wardrobe department supplemented with contemporary clothing. It’s hard to tell whether Wallach carefully crafted this sartorial dishevelment or did the best he could on OSP’s budget. He appears to have called on the Ministry of Funny Hats for assistance.

Woosley employs a framing device, created by Shakespeare, that makes the play look like it happens in the dream of a derelict named Christopher Sly (also played by Eckart). In that dream, a troupe called the Poor Pitiful Players (a Woosley creation) puts on Shrew. Well, Woosley and Wallach succeed in making the actors look poor and pitiful.

The Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park cast of The Taming of the Shrew. (Photo by April Porterfield)

But the bigger issue is this OSP production confuses silliness with humor, a common error in staging Shakespeare’s comedies. Cliched sight gags, scenery chewing and audience interaction are fine if they lead to a fresh look at an old play. Alas, all this stage business just makes show seem every bit of its nearly three-hour running time.

It’s too bad some fine acting isn’t employed to better ends. Eckart (it’s good to see him onstage again) gives an admirable performance without overdoing it. Nestander nails Kate’s strength early on and credibly plays her transformation, considering how objectionable this “taming” is.

At the reviewed performance, her final speech was effective under adverse circumstances. Woosley has Nestander going all over the stage during the scene, and she had to compete with fireworks popping away down the street at the ballpark. Eckart and Nestander make a well-matched Kate and Petruchio. For the most part, supporting cast members are uniformly strong.

OSP has made a change that helps the actors. The set has been rotated slightly from previous seasons, so the pine tree that has been upstage left on the Water Stage is now upstage center. Although this change may reduce the amount of seating a little, it improves the theater’s acoustics and keeps the actors farther downstage. OSP employed stage microphones with mixed results before, but this production is thankfully unamplified, except for the electrified guitar and cello (with original music written and performed by David Fletcher-Hall and Dillon Lefebvre).

OSP tends to overuse recorded music, but in Shrew, it’s all done live.

But this production is another case of the whole being less than the sum of its parts. OSP takes a crack at Shrew every few years. Theatergoers needn’t hold it against the company for trying.
The Taming of the Shrew
Thursday, June 8th, 2017 8:00pm to Saturday, June 24th, 2017 8:00pm
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park
Myriad Gardens Water Stage, 301 W. Reno Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK 73101
Prices from: $15.00

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About the Author

Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for several Oklahoma City publications.  He has...

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