Review "Taming The Shrew": Two Plays, One Works!

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presents

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Taming of the Shrew
At Courtyard Theatre
Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Avenue
Written by William Shakespeare
With additional scenes by Neil LaBute
Directed by Josie Rourke
Thru June 6th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours and fifty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

"And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate Conformable..."  There are three Kates to tame in this modern take on a classic; Shakespeare's, LaBute's and Walsh's.    Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presents Taming of the Shrew.  The traditional story has been framed in contemporary angst.  Shakespeare's tale is about a man marrying the town bitch for money.  Through mind game manipulation, he exhausts her into submission.  LaBute's add-ons turn it into a 'play within a play.'  The director casts her girlfriend as the shrew and exercises directorial power to control her moves.  Walsh's review sees this production of Taming of the Shrew as an aggressive attempt to rectify the controversial misogynist comedy for feminists.  Despite the effort to manage the headstrong expectations of the three shrews, these Kates are left without satisfying resolution and a wistful longing to be kissed by Cole Porter's romantic rendition.  

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Award-winning American playwright Neil LaBute goes behind the scenes to focus on the relationships of the cast and crew.  It is actors playing actors playing Shakespearean characters.  LaBute's scenes are primarily before and after acts with limited breaking the fourth wall mid scene.  One of those moments is a hilarious hat hanging decision of Tranio (Brian Sills) interrupted by the director (Mary Beth Fisher).  The 'play within a play' concept is intriguing and there is a marvelous "tech rehearsal lunch break" visual with the entire ensemble sans wigs and elaborate costumes.  It's a who's who glimpse at actors in their real world garb.  LaBute's additions concentrate on the tumultuous relationship between the director and Kate (Bianca Amato).  Their dysfunction gets tiresome.  It's like watching a show with a sniping married couple.  A lengthy soliloquy by Fisher apologizing for the bad production due to technical difficulties and personal problems blurs the lines between the pretend production issues of Taming of the Shrew and the real ones.    
  
The play within the play is Chicago Shakes' hallmark of entertaining!  In the lead, Amato

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 transforms from wild Kate to Kate Conformable.   She goes from raging bitch to dejected prisoner to submissive wife to...done!  Ian Bedford (Petruchio) commands the situation oozing masculinity as the over confident opportunist.  Brian Sills (Triano) is outstanding playing an actor playing a servant playing his master.  His verbal and physical comedic timing is hilarious.  His sidekick Alex Goodrich (Biondello) lights up with pure animated enjoyment.  Larry Yando (Baptista) delivers elegant bafflement as the father of two challenging daughters.  As always, Mike Nussbaum (Gremio) brings the old world charm.  Just uttering a 'anyone want soup' line, Nussbaum delights with his magnetism.    
 
It's not just the script that has non-conventional extras.  Lucy Osborne gives traditional costumes an amusing makeover.  Special detail has been added to accentuate certain appendages with giggling results.  It's all about pleasurable excess with a pink feathered gown and assless chaps.  With the multi-talented cast adorned in quirky renaissance finery, Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew within LaBute's Taming of the Shrew is a stand alone!  What to do with LaBute's add-on scenes in the production?  WWSD? Quoting the master, "My remedy is then to pluck it out". 

Naming Taming of the Shrew as his Shakespearean favorite, James describes this experience as  "LaBute's Labour Lost!"

Chicago Shakespeare production photographs courtesy of Liz Lauren.

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