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Theater review: Harridan or House Mouse? 'The Taming of the Shrew' Enlightens

Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park presents “The Taming of the Shrew,” beginning their 33rd season with one of Shakespeare’s most popular and fun comedies. 

Directed by Caprice Woosley, “The Taming of the Shrew” takes advantage of some forgotten traditions in this production.

In the day of the bard, slang was a lot more poetic, and theatre was often a lot more spontaneous. Traveling troupes of troublesome troubadours would pull up their wagons and present a play from a hodgepodge of costume remnants straight out of your closet. Woosley brings back this troupe to introduce the play, and this version of “Taming of the Shrew” is a play within a play. A short introduction from "The Poor Pitiful Players" begins the performance, and “The Taming of the Shrew” is followed by an enclosing scene, bracketed much like a pair of collapsible parentheses.

“The Taming of the Shrew” is the story of lovers and a story of compromise. Wealthy Paduan gentlemen, Baptista Minola has two lovely daughters. Bianca is the youngest, and she cannot marry until her elder sister, Katharina does. Katharina, or Kate, has a very abrasive and commanding personality discouraging many suitors, much to her satisfaction. Nevertheless, Petruchio, a gentleman of Verona, has determined that he will tame her, marry her and have the use of her substantial dowry. Petruchio has also made a bet that he can do as he says and make the fair Kate a biddable mate. As he sets about the daunting task, Bianca’s suitors jockey into predictably precarious positions in order to win her heart, her hand and her dowry. Petruchio’s efforts to create a sweet wife in the woman he marries could also reveal possible changes to his own outlook as he creates marital harmony.

The dictionary defines shrew as a.) a loud, quarrelsome woman or b.) a small animal similar to but not related to a mouse. In this production of “The Taming of the Shrew,”  Caprice Woosley, directs Petruchio to change a shrew into a mouse! Sean Eckart develops a portrayal of Petruchio, clearly enjoying this process. Jodi Nestander‘s Katharina resists all attempts, and makes it clear that the disarmament of the termagant is but a façade.

Using the "Poor Pitiful Players" to encapsulate the play is inspired in many respects; however it tends to increase audience confusion. Language has evolved considerably since the late 1500s, and some modern audiences find Shakespeare hard to follow. The addition of extra plot increases the complication in this production.  Furthermore, double casting can cause an audience relying on visual cues greater discombobulation.

Eckart plays Petruchio with great passion and vigor. Nestander plays Kate with a jaunty liveliness that hints at hidden elegance and vivaciousness. The two of them display remarkable chemistry, yet they seem to allow their excitability to replace desire.

Jeremy Winchester designed an interesting set that is slightly evocative of how a traveling mystery play wagon might look—simple, but enough. The orientation of the set is a trifle unusual adding to the overall mystique and atmosphere.

The entire cast displays athleticism, performance skill, dedication, and a sense of fun and fantasy. Excellence among actors skillfully chosen by Woosley are Michael Gibbons distinguished as Baptista, Weston Vrooman as the devious Tronio, Suzy Weller as the shy, sly Bianca, and David Fletcher-Hall for his music as well as his characterizations. It is noticed that Dillon LeFabvre is a fellow musician of note.

Dakota Lee Bryant as Hortensio and Bryan Lewis as Lucentio are handsome gents of the day, any day, and Mark Johnson, Jonathan May, Miguel-Antonio Dooley, Rick Lockett and Joe Bonfiglio are substantive and contribute heart and soul. Additionally, Michele L. Fields and Sage Tokach are classy and talented. Their contributions help build an atmosphere essential to “The Taming of the Shrew” and "The Poor Pitiful Players" cavorting across the Myriad Water Stage.

“The Taming of the Shrew” is showing at the Myriad Botanical Gardens through June 24. The outdoor performance presents a few obstacles, but they are easily overcome, weather permitting! The Myriad Water Stage is in the botanical gardens at 301 W Reno Ave. (Reno and Robinson) and is a beautiful setting for the show. The play begins at 8 pm. For tickets or additional information, visit Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park at or call 405-235-3700.

Elizabeth Hurd

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