Critic's PickPlays by Shakespeare can suffer when modernized (translating Julius Caesar into a contemporary politician, for instance). But the only suffering during Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of The Taming of the Shrew will be your sides from continuous laughter.
Director Matt Johnson has set the battle of the sexes in a “mythical Hollywood studio” of the 1930s. What often goes wrong with adaptations is that they’re not fully applied, but Johnson’s update works flawlessly and completely, adding layers of humor for theatergoers who might not routinely warm to a play by Shakespeare.
One group of characters becomes The Marx Brothers, whose verbal and physical shtick is perfectly suited to Shrew. Jeremy Dubin plays sly Tranio as Groucho, Kristopher Stoker is mischievous Lucentio as Chico (with a cheesy Italian accident) and Sara Clark turns the quick-witted clown Biondello into the mute Harpo, complete with a honking horn and a coat full of funny props.
Equally suited to this transplant are the leading roles: Hayley Clark is Katherine, the uber-bitchy daughter of exasperated studio exec Baptista Minola (Jim Hopkins). She's angry over being replaced in leading roles by her saccharine younger sister Bianca (Lauren Shively), who repeatedly sings in Judy Garland’s voice. Topping them all is Christopher Guthrie as shrew-tamer Petruchio — his zesty performance owes much to Errol Flynn, dramatically exaggerated, mugging and over-the-top, a style perfectly suited to the character’s grandiose style as written by Shakespeare.
The production executes the cinematic concept from start (a flickering silent film) to finish (big thrown kisses and a few cream pies, lest we take Katherine’s acquiescence too seriously). The result is a delightful and hilarious entertainment that’s just right for this time of year for fans of Shakespeare — and everyone else.
[Photo: Lauren Shiveley as Bianca (left) and Hayley Clark as Kate. Photo by Rich Sofranko.]
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through Jan. 3. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.