SUSPICION AND SCHEMES Markham and Romero.
For a churlishly misogynistic romp, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is quite an entertaining excursion into the mindset of Elizabethans. Well, half of them, anyway.
The Colonial Theatre is presenting its free annual summer Shakespeare in Westerly’s Wilcox Park (Tuesday-Sunday at 8 pm through August 18), directed with spirited animation by Harland Meltzer. Half of the cast of 16 are Actors’ Equity, so the Bard probably would approve of the quality.
Modern audiences have also given a wink and a nod to the notion of a feisty young woman being “tamed” by a clever suitor, if only from the irony of a blustering male thinking he’s the boss just because his female smiles sweetly and says he is. That trick has never gotten old. Cole Porter reprised the theme in his 1948 musical Kiss Me, Kate, but the original story is so definitive that Shakespeare’s tale was used as a play within the play in Kate.
The wealthy Lord Baptista Minola (Ed Franklin) announces that he will not allow his younger daughter Bianca (Elise Arsenault) to be married before her notoriously ill-tempered older sister, Katherina (Marion Markham), is wed. This troubles the elderly gentleman Gremio (Gary Poe) and the young Hortensio (Mark Irish), who have their eyes on Bianca. Conveniently for both of them, Hortensio’s friend Petruchio (Paul Romero) has arrived “to wive it wealthily in Padua,” so there is hope. For his part, Hortensio pretends to be a music tutor to get close to Bianca.
Yet another amorous male leaps into the dance when Lucentio (Enrique Bravo), who has just arrived to attend the university, sees Bianca and falls in love. Overhearing Baptista say that he is looking for tutors for her, he pretends to be a teacher of Latin so he can woo her up close and personal, giving him an advantage over any other suitors. He exchanges clothing and identities with his servant, Tranio (James Neilan), who will pretend to court her, further misdirecting the attention of her father. (Big round of applause to Neilan for being such a standout in a good cast, creating such a slyly commanding personality.)
The main focus is, of course, on the interplay between the scheming Petruchio and the suspicious Katherina. Will he be clever enough to successfully woo her, nevermind pacify her? Romero plays Petruchio with roaring, all-stops-out braggadocio, so the character comes across as more of a blowhard than a clever schemer, but the outcome is as convincing. Markham’s Katherina is admirably spirited rather than bitchy, although that makes the eventual bride’s decline into dutiful wifeliness all the more sad.
At the outset, Petruchio admires her for being “a lusty wench,” so their verbal duels are on an equal rather than condescending footing. He jests good-naturedly with her at length at their first opportunity. But when she takes a swing at him, he says, “I swear I’ll cuff you, if you strike again,” to which she replies: “So may you lose your arms/If you strike me, you are no gentleman/And if no gentleman, why then no arms.” Clever girl.