Free fisticuffs

Shrew to be tamed on Boston Common
By SALLY CRAGIN  |  July 11, 2006

Jennifer Dundas
After last year’s Hamlet, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company artistic director Steven Maler decided he wanted a play “with life and character and vitality to it — an upbeat type of spirit” for this year’s offering of free Shakespeare on Boston Common. And the Bard’s knockout newlywed battle, The Taming of the Shrew, offered a challenge in terms of sexual politics. “I wanted to see how it would work and how it would resonate in a contemporary context.” Maler adds that he’s found Petruchio’s journey more difficult to comprehend than Kate’s. “How do you make him an appealing character given the process he goes through with her?”

One thing you obviously need is likable yet strong-willed principals; CSC has Newton native Jennifer Dundas and Darren Pettie. An Obie-winning theater, film, and TV actor whose career began at the American Repertory Theatre, Dundas finds Shrew a sweet homecoming. “For me, being home and on Boston Common, where I spent time as a kid, is familiar stomping grounds, so I have a certain comfort level.”

She hasn’t played Kate before and was “surprised by how much sense she makes. She’s a complete sympathetic character from my point of view.” Maler concurs: “She’s a woman on the verge. And she’s destined to a life alone if she doesn’t find a way to adjust herself to accommodate another person.”

Dundas suggests that in Petruchio Kate has “met her match because nobody else has the stamina or the dynamism.” And she’s relishing the opportunity to stretch, especially after playing a variety of “proper and demure” roles, mostly due to her petite size. “When I did Laura in The Glass Menagerie [at the Kennedy Center in 2004, opposite Sally Field], people said, ‘Ah — you’re perfect. You’re born to play that part.’ A lot of directors aren’t capable of seeing what I can do, and Steve can.”

No argument from Maler” “She’s fierce — an absolute delight to work with.” He also believes that the pairing of Dundas and Pettie is “a stroke of luck — he’s a Juilliard-trained actor with this extraordinary classical training and he brings such texture and humanity and humor to the part — also a wonderful sense of self-mockery, which is really important to Petruchio.”

Then there was the always-important question of era. Maler had an unusual inspiration: the Mamma Maria restaurant in the North End. “I wanted a world where women’s power was recognized and acknowledged. We all know the Italian mom really runs the roost. Whether the men think they do or not is immaterial. So that became the world for me. This play is meant to be a love letter to Boston and the North End, and it really is terrific fun, particularly since the Italians just won the World Cup.”

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW | Commonwealth Shakespeare Company | Parade Ground on Boston Common, Beacon St + Charles St, Boston | July 22–August 13 | Free | 617.532.1212

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