‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at Folger Theatre by Julia L. Exline


Folger Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s classic comedy The Taming of the Shrew, drawing inspiration and influence from the Wild West, circa 1880. Esteemed director Aaron Posner sheds Shakespeare in an entirely different light, with characters line-dancing, spitting, and slinging back shots throughout this rowdy production!

Scenic Designer Tony Cisek transforms the stage into an authentic saloon, using handsome wood to structure nearly everything onstage, including the floor, bar, and a large staircase that leads upstairs. An intricate chandelier made up of antlers hangs from the ceiling, and swinging doors stand before a back wall made up largely of windows, through which a faded blue sky is seen.

(L-R) Danny Scheie, Cody Nickell, and Kate Eastwood Norris in Shakespeare’s 'The Taming of the Shrew' at Folger Theatre. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Jennifer Schriever uses warm lighting to compliment the set and accentuate the overall mood of the plot, while musician Cliff Eberhardt takes on the role of ‘The Blind Balladeer’ and performs original music for the production. Never leaving his spot onstage, Eberhardt’s rustic songs perfectly capture the moments, from funny to touching. My favorite numbers include “Lord, What Fools These Mortals May Be,” and “I Love A Wedding.” Truly, his performances alone are well worth the ticket price.

Costume Designer Helen Q. Huang takes on the difficult task of dressing the characters for the Wild West, while still holding onto Shakespeare’s influence. Yes, there are cowboy hats, but plumes of feathers can be seen peeking out of them, and while the dresses are simply cut for a prairie-feel, they are bordered with intricate Victorian designs. During one memorable costume change, there was a collective gasp of adulation from the audience after the character stepped onstage.

(L-R) Baptista (Sarah Marshall) agrees to give Petruchio (Cody Nickell) her eldest daughter'€™s hand in marriage. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Thomas Keegan plays Lucentio, a young man who has fallen in love with the fair Bianca (Sarah Mollo-Christensen), and who faces numerous hurdles in his courtship, the largest being that Bianca cannot be married until her older sister, the formidable Katherine (Kate Eastwood Norris) is married first. Norris is truly a sight to be seen as she stomps around the stage in a never-ending fury, hurling objects in every direction and shouting insults at whoever crosses her path. Rough, waspish, and somewhat masculine, there is little hope of finding a man willing to put up with her antics.

The tide turns when a friend of Hortensio (another hopeful suitor of Bianca, played by Marcus Kyd) arrives to town searching for a rich wife. Brash and confident, Petruchio (Cody Nickell, and real-life husband to Kate Eastwood Norris) agrees to wed Katherine sight-unseen, no matter how daunting she is described, saying “Have I not in a pitched battle heard/Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets’ clang?/And do you tell me of a woman’s tongue,/That gives not half so great a blow to hear/As will a chestnut in a farmer’s fire?/Tush, tush!

Cliff Eberhardt as The Blind Balladeer in Shakespeare'€™s 'The Taming of the Shrew' at Folger Theatre. Photo by Jeff Malet.

The undeterred Petruchio meets his match with Katherine, and the two spit fiery comebacks at each other faster than you can imagine (and some literal spit, as well). The sharp chemistry between these two is incredibly interesting to watch. Petruchio is determined to tame Katherine’s wild ways and formidable attitude, and uses some bold and controversial tactics in his attempts. It is a true battle of wills, with both parties putting in the fight of their lives.

While the main plot itself is fascinating enough to hold the production, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare if there weren’t about ten different relationships all being played out onstage at the same time. The intricacies can get a bit complicated, but the actors play them out wonderfully. Danny Scheie steals every scene he is in as Grumio, Petruchio’s servant and the token “fool” in every Shakespearean play, while Sarah Marshall earns many of her own laughs as Bianca and Katherine’s commanding mother, Baptista. The talented ensemble plays off each other effortlessly and uses a lot of physical humor as well as wit.

An exceptional cast and terrific direction make up a truly memorable performance of The Taming of the Shrew. This one should not be missed!

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Taming of the Shrew plays through June 10, 2012 at Folger Theatre, at The Folger Shakespeare Library -201 East Capitol Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 544-7077, or order them online.

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