Charming 1950’s Production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

by Harrison Kaplan

A busy month has produced a number of outstanding options for theatre-goers in St. Louis, and even when the weather is as variable as has been over the last few weeks, there’s no denying the appeal of watching a fine production of Shakespeare in Forest Park, especially when it doesn’t cost you one thin dime to attend (not counting the gas it may take you to get there). Shakespeare Festival St. Louis shrewdly (if you’ll pardon the pun) re-imagines one of the Bard’s works, The Taming of the Shrew, with sets, costumes and a Cadillac straight out of the 1950’s, and it works like a charm.

Petruchio is interested in taking the hand of the feisty Katherine because he’s in need of cash and her father is willing to provide a substantial dowry to her suitor. Besides, her sister Bianca is out of the picture, due to her father’s decision to forbid her to wed until her sister takes a husband. Kate is shrewish in the truest sense of the word, but after they’re married, Petruchio does his damnable best to break her spirit by denying her the essentials, such as food and water. Somehow, it’s all much easier to take in this 1950’s setting, even though no one will mistake either of these characters for June or Ward Cleaver.

Paul Hurley does strong work as Petruchio, imbuing the character with a rakish quality that serves the role well, and he’s well matched with Annie Worden as Kate, whose childish impetuosity and stubborn-headed demeanor make her appear in dire need of some “taming”. Although, the way Petruchio goes about it is less than chivalrous. Steve Isom (Baptista) and Will Shaw (Lucentio) also offer up fine work, but Megan Storti is less than impressive as Kate’s sister Bianca. Kurt Ehrmann makes a bid for our attention in three different parts, and Justin Leibrecht, Laura Sexauer and Peter Winfrey add color and gaiety with their contributions. David Graham Jones and Karl Gregory also amuse with their physical schtick as a pair of servants.

Director Sean Graney does a nice job with this re-working, and keeps the tone fairly light and comic, despite some of the more unbecoming behavior exhibited by Petruchio. Scott C. Neale’s scenic design captures the angles and styles of the 1950’s, and he’s aided by Alison Siple’s vibrant costuming. The aforementioned Cadillac along with the smooth lines provided by an Airstream trailer also act to conjure up the era in nice fashion. Some brief choreography by Ellen Isom adds to the proceedings, and Robin Weatherall’s sound design acts to enhance the mood as well.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has produced another welcome production with their unique take on The Taming of the Shrew, and along with some fine pre-show festivities and entertainment, have provided St. Louis with a very entertaining and engaging evening of theatre.