Mark Lamos, Connecticut’s most experienced Shakespeare director, has turned his hand to “The Taming of the Shrew” for the Yale Repertory Theater, giving the comedy a contemporary barrio setting and an all-male cast. The result isn’t great Shakespeare (neither is the play), but it is divertingly good-natured and chock-a-block with physical business that spirals into slapstick. The Latino milieu and the all-male cast really don’t illuminate the play in any new way, but the production is so happily ebullient it’s hard to complain.
The all-male cast seems to hark back to Shakespeare’s day, but as the program indicates, men didn’t play women way back then — boys did. Ramon de Ocampo, Caesar Samayoa and Anthony Manna takes the roles of Kate, Bianca and Lusty Widow, respectively, with aplomb and uncampy femininity. All three are dressed and wigged as women but clearly aren’t.
One of the production’s many amusing elements is that Ocampo’s dark-haired Kate is smaller than Samayoa’s blond Bianca, Kate’s younger sister. And at least before he slips into full wedding regalia, this Kate actually looks more like a young man than a young woman. Ocampo, a potent performer, is dressed in jeans throughout.
Lamos has cut the play’s opening Christopher Sly scenes. He replaces them with a street basketball game that segues into a friendly rumble and then into an out-and-out dance. Sean Curran’s jolly choreography plays a big role, choreographed movements being provided for group entrances and exits and for scene and prop changes. There are spoofed-romantic dance numbers, such as for Bianca and Lucentio. There’s even a hat dance.
Lamos seems to be paying homage to Australian director Baz Luhrmann. His Latino setting carries echoes of Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” film set in contemporary Miami. And Leiko Fuseya’s garish setting, with a palm tree and Technicolor washing hanging on lines overhead, includes a direct reference to Luhrmann’s “La Boheme” — a neon Amor sign. Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes are wittily gaudy.
The production includes Spanish accents and some actual Spanish when the servant Biondello (a jaunty Tom Lee) hurtles onstage to announce Petruchio’s late arrival for his wedding. Petruchio and Kate’s wooing scene is an all-out wrestling match, well staged by fight director Rick Sordelet. Everybody seems to be enjoying himself, with energetic ensemble work and individual characterizations. There’s standout work by Bryant Mason, Triney Sandoval and Charles Daniel Sandoval, and no weak links.
Joseph Urla’s Petruchio is a slight letdown. He doesn’t have the physical or vocal magnetism needed to dominate the stage. And perhaps too much is expected of him when he’s dressed and wigged as an Elvis Presley clone and has to ride in on a crazy horse-bicycle for the wedding scene. Nevertheless, Urla is always privy to the fun at hand and is by no means inconsequential.
Ocampo has more or less the last word in Kate’s famous speech about a wife’s place in marriage. In this case the line “I am asham’d that women are so simple” is made to sound as if it’s “I am asham’d that we men are so simple,” which is perfectly apt under the circumstances.