The Taming of the Shrew
nytheatre.com review by Peter Schuyler
August 14, 2009
Reaching Andromeda's production of The Taming of the Shrew is a cacophonous two hours of theatre. The acting company, ages 6 to 66 (as stated in the program), comprise a broad spectrum of acting styles and levels of experience, and they do their level best to illuminate Shakespeare's (possibly) most blatantly sexist text to mixed results.
Director Meghan Farley Astrachan states in her notes that "this production attempts to convey to modern audiences what we imagine Shakespeare intended to prescribe..." Ah. There's the rub. Astrachan seeks to remove the play from its historical context, and thereby inform it with some modern sensibility. She is not successful. This play has always been a skirmish in the Battle of the Sexes where the women lose. That she has gender-swapped a number of the tertiary roles, including Bianca, does nothing to change the outcome, in fact it only serves to further confuse. More curious is that the setting and costumes are classical and pastoral, only the music covering the scene changes is modern, using tracks from various pop and rock acts, including some from the film 10 Things I Hate About You, which is a successful modernization of Shrew. That association doesn't help, in fact it's a very distracting choice that seems an ill fit with the rest of the production.
Sexism is inherent in Shakespeare's work. Though he came to prominence during the reign of a female monarch, his work is primarily concerned with male issues, and was originally performed exclusively by men. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Shrew, which makes jest of domestic abuse; the final monologue by the female protagonist is akin to listening to the long version of Ephesians 5.22*.
Let me be clear: My issues with this production lie with the text and the director's dismissal of historical context. The cast is a gifted group; an enjoyable mash of different acting styles and levels of experience who put on an amusing pastoral comedy. They live and die as an ensemble, and no performance deserves mention above another.
Shrew seems an odd choice for the FringeNYC, which is supposed to showcase new and engaging work from around the globe. I wanted to see this production specifically for that reason; to see what a Fringe Shrew would look like, how the creative team would deal with the dated opinions of the text. Sadly, Reaching Andromeda's production is unable or unwilling to bring any modern light to the play.
* Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.