The Taming of the Shrew

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday June 14, 2016

Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer
Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer   

Summertime in NYC means free Shakespeare in Central Park, and the first of this year's two offerings is an all-female mounting of one of the Bard's most misogynist and delightful offerings, "The Taming of the Shrew."

English director Phyllida Lloyd gathers together a whip-smart cast of powerful women, featuring Tony Award-winning actress Janet McTeer as Petruchio, and "The Good Wife" star Cush Jumbo as his conquest, Katherina, aka Kate.

With a stage set up like an old gypsy carnival, traveling caravans flanking a red circus curtain, the play opens with the troupe of women competing in a beauty pageant. It's a fitting metaphor for how society treats women -- one cemented by the addition of a Trump-like voice-over crudely outlining the attributes of the contestants.

All this easy beauty attracts the eye of young Donato (Rosa Gilmore), who has traveled to Padua with his servant Tranio ("Orange is the New Black" star Adrienne C. Moore) to "haply institute a course of learning and ingenious studies." He is soon smitten by beautiful nitwit Bianca (Gayle Rankin), who draws men like moths to a flame. But Bianca's father, Baptista (Latanya Richardson Jackson) would see his oldest daughter, Katherina, wed before his youngest does so.

Among Bianca's other suitors are Gremio (Judy Gold) and Hortensio (Donna Lynne Champlin), both looking for the world like a pair of aluminum siding salesmen. Baptista entreats them to wed his oldest; Gremio cannot even conceive of the man who would wed this scold, saying, "A husband! A devil.... Though her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool to be married to hell."

Nature abhors a gap, and soon such a fool pops out of the stage hatch: McTeer, looking as lean and lanky as Iggy Pop. This Verona man has "come to wed wealthily, if happily, in Padua," and claims angry Kate as his mark.

Hortensio and Gremio are thrilled, and make a plan to smuggle in under the guise of a tutor to woo Bianca, while Petruchio will "thoroughly woo [Kate], wed her and bed her and rid the house of her!" Yet Donato, younger, more handsome and equally well-off, has the same plan, and puts it to great effect as the tutor Cambio, with his servant acting as him in his place.

Petruchio soon settles on a dowry with Baptista, and begins to woo "Katherina the Cursed" earnestly -- or rather, insistently. To wit, he says, "I am rough, and woo not like a babe." He turns her curses onto her; when she says, "Asses are made to bear, and so are you," he replies, "Women are made to bear, and so are you."

Their badinage ends in the famous line, "Will you, nill you, I will marry you." And marry her he does, showing up late, drunk, and in shambles for his own wedding, then leaving promptly before the feast with his angry wife in tow.

In the name of love, he throws away her meat as "too burnt, choleric" and denies her sleep, declaring the pillows too lumpy. In the meantime, back in Padua, Bianca's suitors have engaged in a bidding war, with Tranio (bidding as Lucentio) winning with his promise of houses, ducats, boats, land and more. As Bianca's young tutor, the real Lucentio has won her heart.

By the time Kate returns for her sister's wedding, she's been so sleep- and food-deprived that she practically has the Stockholm Syndrome for her brutish husband, Petruchio. None in Padua can believe that this willful young woman has been "tamed," so the husbands lay a wager on whose wife will come when called. Guess who wins?

The play comes to an uneasy ending with Kate's speechifying to the other wives about how "thy husband is thy lord, thy life, they keeper," then seemingly reneging on her stance on 'wifely duties' by raging and stomping her feet.

At two intermission-less hours, the play is tight, if uneven at times. While some of the actors seemed to shout their lines, McTeer alone seemed to live them. Applause must go to the winning Gilmore as Donato; Moore in her imposter role; and of course, the excellent comedian Judy Gold, who saved the day by doing impromptu stand-up during a technical difficulty.

Kudos to lighting design by Robert Wierzel, music by Sam Davis and set/costume design by Mark Thompson. Line up early at select locations to get your free pair of tickets.

"The Taming of the Shrew" runs through June 26 at the Delacorte Theater, 81st Street in Central Park. For information on free tickets, call 212-539-8500 or visit http://publictheater.org/en/Public-Theater-Season/The-Taming-of-the-Shrew/

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.