Comic Henny Youngman used to say, “Take my wife … Please!” Change wife to daughter, and you may have found a way into Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” a new production of which is under way in Monmouth.
Set in Italy in the “late 1900s” by director Sally Wood, the play takes off as the wealthy Baptista seeks to marry off his two daughters. That should be no problem with the lovely Bianca. But the older Katherina, or Kate, must go first, and she’s a handful. It will be up to the ambitious Petruchio to “tame” the difficult Kate if he wants in on her family’s wealth. But what will love have to do with it?
Based on Sunday’s performance, Wood and company have put together a nicely timed but never rushed “Taming.” There are comings and goings from all corners of the theater and several action sequences marked by the director’s special expertise in fight choreography. It’s a first-rate production all around, enhanced particularly by the strong cast.
Ambien Mitchell plays the “irksome, brawling scold” Kate, balancing her character’s hard edges with peeks at a vulnerability that fuels her transformation to “obedient” wife. The question of whether and to what extent the starved and sleep-deprived Kate is a victim of the “mad brained rudesby” Petruchio is not exactly avoided in this production, though there is a bit of non-verbal hedging in the final scene.
Josh Carpenter plays Petruchio as somewhat of a caricature of arrogance and vanity. He earned several chuckles from the crowd for his melodramatic bluster in assuring all that he would achieve his goal “to wive it wealthily.”
Other actors excelled in the schemes and “counterfeit supposes” that were concocted in efforts to win the hand of the beautiful Bianca (Aislinn Kerchaert). James Noel Hoban gave Hortensio weight while Luke Couzens, as Lucentio, moved easily between turns as nerd and lover.
Mike Anthony was especially noteworthy as Petruchio’s put-upon but sharply witty servant Grumio. He earned some of the biggest laughs along with Alexander Harvey as the conspiratorial Tranio.
Always to be somewhat controversial, “The Taming of the Shrew” in this production shines with those qualities of romance and comedy that have kept it alive through the centuries.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.
Look for the full review in the Portland Press Herald.