The Taming of the Shrew is a classic Shakespeare comedy and one of the playwright's most popular works. It's based on the war between the sexes, and the plot pits an opportunistic, 16th-century lord against a headstrong woman, whom he is wooing in order to acquire her substantial dowry. While Shakespeare's script never indicated manhandling in order to tame the tempestuous Kate, dramatic interpretations often include bullishness, such as spanking or even Petruchio flinging Kate over his shoulder. The current production at Lupin Theatre, presented by Cripple Creek Theatre Company and New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, however, positions Katharina (Devyn Tyler) as an equal sparring partner to Petruchio (Andrew Vaught), who aims to transform the wildcat into a sweet and subservient wife.
As in medieval productions, the stage is bare. All the action takes place in the round — at times involving audience members — and with simple musical accompaniment of harmonica, cymbals and drums. The focus is on the play's distinct characters, particularly the forceful, quick-witted and crafty Kate. But there is a twist to the story, allowing Kate more control over destiny.
Director Emilie Whelan included the often-omitted prologue, establishing the story of Petruchio, Kate, her father Baptista (Donald Lewis Jr.) and suitors Tranio (Jessica Amber Lozano), Gremio (Khiry Armstead) and Hortensio (Cameron-Mitchell Ware), as a play within a play. The first scene starts with a tinker, Sly (Vaught), passed out drunk in the street. As a joke, the lord (Tyler) orders the tinker brought inside, dressed like a gentleman, offered fine foods and tricked to believe he is actually a nobleman. The rest of the story is presented as a play performed inside the lord's chamber.
There never is a dull moment in this production, which is full of the disguises and mistaken identities Shakespeare often used as comic devices. To gain access to Kate's sister Bianca (Marie Becnel), Lucentio (Philip Yiannopoulos) disguises himself as a schoolteacher while Hortensio pretends to teach music. Vaught relishes his brutish role, mocking and tormenting Kate to rule her. He wants Kate to see the error of her ways by behaving even worse himself. Tyler, however, shows Kate to be smart, articulate and indomitable. When they first meet, she protests, "Let him that moved you hither remove you hence."
Taming of the Shrew examines the eternal essence of love, whether power, infatuation or a real partnership. Petruchio imagines that molding his bride into a respectful wife will produce a mutually agreeable relationship. The couple's continuous tussle is counterbalanced by a blissful, naive romance between Lucentio and Bianca, perceived as the ideal woman thanks to her modesty and mild disposition. Bianca has other suitors but cannot marry until Kate has wed.
Shakespeare's 430-year-old play is a timeless romp that entertains and brings new insights to the dynamics of relationships. With strong performances by Lewis as the frustrated Baptista, Armstead as the clownish Gremio and Lozano as would-be suitor Tranio and the Widow, The Taming of the Shrew is a delight.