Review: Taming of the Shrew at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Review: Taming of the Shrew at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Photo credit: Liz Lauren

 “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper” …Katharina, Act 5, Scene 2, Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”

It’s 1919, Wilson is President, women are demonstrating for their rights and in Chicago, the Columbia Women’s Club has chosen to present Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” for their ametuer theater series. 

Due to a relentless storm that has flooded their usual meeting hall but not whet their spirits, the women have moved the rehearsal to one of the members lovely brownstones near Michigan Avenue–most likely on Chicago’s near north side.

In a creative leap Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) Artistic Director Barbara Gaines has taken one of the Bard’s most problematic plays, “The Taming of the Shrew,” that has been scorned by scholars and feminists as being misogynistic and done an about face by casting it with all women.

Ironically, over 400 years ago, when the play was written and for many years after that, the play was cast with all-males.

Not only has Gaines used an all-female cast but her choice of putting on the play in the heat of the Suffragette movement offers another liberating stroke.

The rain also plays a role as many of the women soaked to their skin take off their fashionable clothes–stripping down to their bloomers to rehearse–adding an additional element of humor and absurdity.

Second City’s Ron West who was brought in to add some new dialogue to the production created an improv feel through his witty dialogue and some inside references.

Is all this risky?


But it works by liberating the play from its original chains that placed women in a subservient role–focusing a re-examination of Shakespeare’s characters–the men as well as the women.

According to Gaines, “There is a supreme power in reclaiming this story to be told by women, particularly now,” noting that “Looking at this play through a woman’s eyes brings the play’s themes into sharp focus with wit, wisdom, and humor…continuing “These women are wickedly smart, and strong—and they will not be tamed.”

In the play, fortune-seeking suitors compete for the hand of the demure Bianca, but her father has decreed that her fiery and tempestuous sister Katherine must wed first. Petruchio takes on the task of wooing and winning her—and so begins the notorious battle of wits. Along the way, the Suffragettes re-examine the characters in Shakespeare’s story, as well as their own status as women in society.       

Katherine (Alexandra Henrikson) resists the advances of Petruchio (Crystal Lucas-Perry) . Photo: Liz Lauren

Katherine (Alexandra Henrikson) resists the advances of Petruchio (Crystal Lucas-Perry) . Photo: Liz Lauren

This is not your father’s Shrew.

The Gaines production presents Shakespeare’s play peppered with each of actors playing dual roles both as one of the suffragettes presenting the play and as the character they are portraying in their performance of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The Chicago audiences will enjoy the newly added local references to politicians, streets, institutions and sports teams and familiar names, many humorous such as the reference to “politics as usual” tying the past to the present noting that “Here on earth the popular vote means nothing.”

Leading the company are Alexandra Henrikson (Mrs. Louise Harrison/Katherine) and Crystal Lucas-Perry (Mrs. Victoria Van Dyne/Petruchio). Henrikson appeared on Broadway in Larry David’s Fish in the Dark and was nominated for a Helen Hayes award for her role in Ironbound at Round House Theatre. Lucas-Perry performed off Broadway in Storm Still: A King Lear Adaptation, and in Lincoln Center’s Bull in a China Shop. Olivia Washington (Mrs. Emily Ingersoll/Bianca) appeared off Broadway as Laura in The Glass Menagerie; and on film in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Robert De Niro’s The Comedian.

Bianca (Olivia Washington) revels in her independence, flanked by Hortensio (Tina Gluschenko), Baptista (E. Faye Butler) and Lucentio (Kate Marie Smith) Photo: Liz Lauren

Bianca (Olivia Washington) revels in her independence, flanked by Hortensio (Tina Gluschenko), Baptista (E. Faye Butler) and Lucentio (Kate Marie Smith) Photo: Liz Lauren

Six-time Jeff Award-winner E. Faye Butler (Dr. Fannie Emmanuel/Baptista) has appeared in multiple national touring productions (Mamma Mia!, Ain’t Misbehavin, Nunsense), and on stages from coast to coast, including The Kennedy Center, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and Signature Theatre. Hollis Resnik (Miss Judith Smith/Gremio) is a twelve-time Jeff Award-winner, including a win for her performance as Carlotta in Chicago Shakespeare’s Follies. She has also appeared in the national touring casts of Les Misérables, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Jeff Award-winner Heidi Kettenring (Mrs. Dorothy Mercer/Tranio) returns to Chicago Shakespeare in her eighth production, after having appeared in the Tug of War saga, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and The School for Lies. Tina Gluschenko (Mrs. Beatrice Ivey Welles/Hortensio) was a member of CST’s collaboration with the Second City: Hamlet the Musical, which later played in New York at Ars Nova. Other Chicago credits include Candide and A Little Night Music at the Goodman Theater. Kate Marie Smith (Mrs. Olivia Twist/Lucentio) appeared in Chicago Shakespeare’s productions of King Charles III and Twelfth Night, and on Chicago Fire.

Rounding out the cast are Lillian Castillo (Mrs. Lucinda James/Biondello), Cindy Gold (Mrs. Sarah Willoughby/Vincentio), Ann E. James (Mrs. Elizabeth Nicewander/Pedant), Rita Rehn (Mrs. Mildred Sherman/Grumio), and Faith Servant (Mrs. Barbara Starkey/Curtis).

For traditionalists, the leap the play takes may not be what they want but for those with an open-mind the all-female Shrew is a feel good play that provides a whole new lens through which to view Shakespeare and offers a lot of laughs along the way.

Rating: ★★★       

When: Through November 12, 2017
Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Tickets: $48 – $88
Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission

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