- Last Updated: 11:48 AM, April 3, 2012
- Posted: 10:37 PM, April 2, 2012
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
The Duke on 42nd St., 229 W. 42nd St.; 646-223-3010. Through April 21.
Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” has such a bad rep that this new production’s program is full of scholarly quotes that basically say, hey, it’s really not as chauvinistic as everybody thinks it is!
The problem’s obvious: The plot revolves around a headstrong woman, Katharina, being broken down into submission by her new husband, Petruchio — who initially married her for the dowry. This is the original romantic comedy, where the woman is humbled by the jerk and falls for him.
Yet this Theatre for a New Audience production, directed by Arin Arbus, makes a convincing argument for the delicious shrewdness of “Shrew.” And that’s because Maggie Siff and Andy Grotelueschen (late of the company’s “Cymbeline”) make a convincing argument for Kate and Petruchio as a pairing of equals.
Siff, who played the department-store heiress of “Mad Men” (she’s currently on “Sons of Anarchy”), finds nuances even at the beginning, when Kate’s a mere barbed-tongue “fiend of hell.” Hurt briefly shadows her face when their father showers her younger sister Bianca (Kathryn Saffell) with love — and then it’s back to throwing chairs.
Petruchio sees through Kate’s shtick right away. He just needs to make her understand that they’re potential partners in crime, not adversaries. So he gives her a taste of her own medicine, making her realize that she can fight back at the world with wit and smarts, not unrestrained aggro.
The rest of Arbus’ production isn’t on the same perceptive high level.
For some reason, she’s placed the action in a 19th-century American frontier town. You’d expect entertaining petticoat dysfunction, or at least a battle of cowboys versus harridans, but the locale is completely underused. At least Donyale Werle created a nice wooden set, full of nooks and crannies — at one point Siff throws her skirt over her shoulder to climb a ladder.
The supporting cast is serviceable, though the very funny Saxon Palmer gets high marks as Bianca’s suitor Hortensio, endowed with a rake’s pencil-thin mustache.
But really, the show’s all about the central mismatched pair, and how much we find ourselves rooting for them. Hollywood could learn a lot from how this romance is handled.