Let’s get physical

The Taming of the Shrew on Boston Common; Copenhagen at the Publick
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  August 1, 2006


THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: We find out who really rules the roost in Italian America.
Shakespeare’s super-dainty Kates become cannoli in The Taming of the Shrew on Boston Common (through August 13). Director Steven Maler has removed the Bard’s pugilistic courtship comedy to Boston’s North End, where Baptista, cigar-puffing father of the reluctant bride, owns an Italian restaurant that spills onto the sidewalk. Signs affixed to a street light point the way to Milano, Venezia, Firenze, etc., but Darren Pettie’s dashing Petruchio has come “to wive it wealthily” in “Bostonia,” where the first word spoken — well, yelled — is “Anthony!”, as a mother borrowed from the old Prince Spaghetti ad leans out a window to call her son to pasta. Pretty soon a block party is going on as neighbor Hortensio sweeps the street before his grocery and waitrons lay tablecloths with choreographic precision. Daughters Katharina and Bianca would seem to help out at the eatery, though Kate, a diminutive spitfire in a tight red dress, mostly does damage with slung water and trays of cutlery.

The time is the 1950s (and the music mostly Louis Prima) — which serves as a reminder that you need go no farther back than 50 years for the sexism built into Shakespeare’s 400-year-old play (in which a mercenary wooer brings a rebellious woman to heel) to seem not out of place. The winking implication is that women really rule the roost in Italian America, but they do so by pretending to a lower place in the pecking order. On the other hand, Pettie’s Petruchio is so movie-star charismatic, and is so clearly giving a performance, that for Jennifer Dundas’s stunned Kate it’s a case of you-had-me-from-“Good-morrow.” Indeed, Dundas’s rendering of the act-five speech admonishing her fellow brides to bend to the good deal that is traditional marriage is less lecture than foreplay. Petruchio was always playing a sex game, and now he’s got a willing partner.

Presenting its 11th offering of free Shakespeare on Boston Common, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company plays fast and loose with the Bard’s early comedy. The accents veer from Sicily to Southie, and there’s plenty of non-iambic ad-libbing going on. Remo Airaldi’s Hortensio even strays from the text within its confines, uttering every “sweet Bianca” in a lecherous growl that borders on obscenity. Paul Farwell’s Baptista is a smooth old-country operator, and there is a spry, athletic turn by Antonio Edwards Suarez as Petruchio’s hyperactive manservant, Grumio, who arrives with his master on a leopard-skin-seated Vespa. (Nice product placement for corporate sponsor Herb Chambers Vespa.) Angie Jepson is the blonde, crinolined vixen of a Bianca, who gets up to some steamy pre-marital canoodling on the restaurant roof deck with Scott Barrow’s geeky Lucentio.

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