The promotional materials for Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's 2017 take on The Taming of the Shrew suggested intensity--the image of Alexandra Hendrickson's Katherine, bellowing and flinging her dress in the hair, led me to believe that the play would showcase the badass-ery, the nasty womaness (if you will), of its all-female cast. Yet Barbara Gaines' direction failed to make risky, bold choices that would showcase this all-star group to its full potential. In summary, this Taming of the Shrew was a little too tame.
Despite some watery directorial choices, the premise of Ron West’s adaptation of Taming has potential. The play opens in Padua, Italy, in true Shakespearean fashion, but after the first scene the “director” character, Mrs. Mildred Sherman (Rita Rehn) emerges, and we learn that we are actually witnessing a play-within-a-play set in mid-nineteenth century Chicago during the Women’s Suffragette Movement. Mildred is determined to produce a successful all-female adaptation of Taming with a cast of bipartisan women—some in support of Women’s Rights, some not. Some Taming scenes are intercut between rehearsal scenes, maneuvered well by the rock-solid cast. Stand-outs include, but are not limited to: E. Faye Butler portraying a no-nonsense Dr. Fannie Emmanuel/Baptista, Heidi Kettenring nailing a nuanced Mrs. Dorothy Mercer/Tranio, and Hollis Resnik as the funniest Judith Smith/Gremio imaginable. The story was clear and the acting was effective but the production was overall safe.
By the end of the rehearsal scenes and the Shakespeare play at hand, every woman is united onstage, donning the iconic Suffragette Sash. It was definitely a refreshing moment to watch considering the current state of bipartisanship in America. If you’re looking for a lighthearted, well-acted Taming, then CST’s show is for you. The story is clear and the acting is effective. If you’re expecting a high-stakes, passionate iteration of the play, then you might want to look elsewhere.
Review by Cory Davis
The Taming of the Shrew continues at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre through November 12. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.