×

Shakespeare in the Park Review: Phyllida Lloyd’s All-Female ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

With:
Rosa Gilmore, Adrienne C. Moore, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Cush Jumbo, Gayle Rankin, Judy Gold, Donna Lynne Champlin, Teresa Avia Lim, Stacey Sargeant, Janet McTeer, Candy Buckley, Pearl Rhein, Leenya Rideout, Morgan Everitt, Natalie Woolams-Torres, Jackie Sanders.

A company of women under the direction of Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) romps through a subversive version of “The Taming of the Shrew” that takes some of the sting out of Shakespeare’s misogynist comedy. Led by Cush Jumbo (“The Good Wife”) as the hoydenish Kate and Janet McTeer (“Mary Stuart”) as the woman-taming Petruchio, the all-femme cast runs a bit wild in mocking the ways of men and the wiles of women. But is this first summer production by Free Shakespeare in the Park gorgeously giddy — or just goofy? 

Directors normally take their lives in their hands by staging “Shrew,” with its jaunty how-to plot about bringing a high-spirited, independent woman to heel. Even actresses who survive the indignity of being “tamed” tend to choke on Kate’s final lecture to the ladies in the audience on the proper deferential behavior of a dutiful wife.

Casting women in both male and female roles (as Lloyd has done with earlier productions of “Julius Caesar” and “Henry IV“) makes smart use of satire to cut through this awkwardness by allowing women to mock the male characters they inhabit. Rather than presenting realistic performances of masculine physical swagger and patriarchal political bluster, the disdainful actresses are gleefully sending the guys up.

Leading up to Kate’s humiliating capitulation, the play presents a quick-witted study of a rich man’s clever and willful elder daughter, Katherine (the vivacious Jumbo), who refuses to entertain the thought of marriage. Not that any of the local dolts are man enough for her, anyway. Their clear preference is for a conventionally lovely and pliant woman like her younger sister, Bianca, played by the fetching Gayle Rankin, a vision in golden sausage curls, delivering a merry parody of this adorable ninny.

In typical Shakespearean fashion, the plot turns on duplicity and disguise for its broad physical comedy. Faithful servants are called upon to play their own masters so their masters can liberate themselves by assuming menial roles.  In this manner, Adrienne C. Moore’s witty trickster, Tranio, pretends to be his master, Lucentio (Rosa Gilmore), while this youth gains access to Bianca by impersonating an impoverished tutor. Only Kate and her cynical suitor, Petruchio (the renowned classical actor McTeer, having the time of her life), unapologetically are what they are — natural enemies and destined lovers.

Jumbo has plenty of spirit as Kate, and some of the comic fools (like Donna Lynne Champlin’s Hortensio) are funny, but McTeer steals the show with her deliciously camp treatment of Petruchio.  Standing 6′ 1″ and cigarette-slim, McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”) has the lean and lanky look of a sexy bad boy who dropped out of high school after getting half the sophomore girls pregnant. Grabbing her crotch and sticking out her tongue, she struts across the stage in her grungy studded leathers and battered cowboy hat (credit designer Mark Thompson for locally shopping these items), flaunting her biker-dude persona and daring Kate to resist his/her punk charms.

A hint of roughness about Petruchio’s “taming” of his bride (the pink handcuffs are a cute touch) lends a soupcon of sado-masochism to McTeer’s bad boy impersonation. But it’s a theme that fails to work its way into the production style, which is all over the map.

The show opens promisingly with an over-the-top Miss Lombardy beauty pageant.  “One of these girls is going to take home a huuuuge prize,” the contest organizer informs us, in the unmistakable accents of The Donald. “I mean, it’s unbelievable!”  But once Miss Mantua has twirled her batons and Miss Padua has sung her heart out (“like a beautiful caged bird”), that theme flies out the window, too.

And why Thompson’s set is done up like a raggedy carnival is anyone’s guess. There are no animal acts, aerialists, or bareback riders on stage, and no one is made up to be a clown. Unless The Donald counts.

Popular on Variety

Shakespeare in the Park Review: Phyllida Lloyd's All-Female 'The Taming of the Shrew'

The Public Theater / Delacorte Theater; 1800 seats; free. Opened June 13, 2016. Reviewed June 9. Running time: TWO HOURS.

Production: A Free Shakespeare in the Park production, in cooperation with the City of New York, of a play in one act by William Shakespeare.

Creative: Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Sets & costumes, Mark Thompson; lighting, Robert Wierzel; sound, Mark Menard; hair & wigs, Leah J. Loukas; music supervision & original music, Sam Davis; fight director, Lisa Kopitsky; movement director, Ann Yee; production stage manager, Cole Bonenberger.

Cast: Rosa Gilmore, Adrienne C. Moore, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Cush Jumbo, Gayle Rankin, Judy Gold, Donna Lynne Champlin, Teresa Avia Lim, Stacey Sargeant, Janet McTeer, Candy Buckley, Pearl Rhein, Leenya Rideout, Morgan Everitt, Natalie Woolams-Torres, Jackie Sanders.

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content