THE TAMING OF THE SHREW by William Shakespeare, directed by David Ferry, with Elizabeth Saunders, Paulino Nunes, Marion Day, Ryan Field, Stewart Arnott and Christopher Morris. Presented by ShakespeareWorks at the Home Depot Theatre, Ashbridges Bay Park (Coxwell and Lakeshore). Runs to August 7, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm (except July 17 at 7 pm), matinees Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm (no mat July 16-17). $20-25, 18 and under $2. 416-872-1111. www.shakespeareworks.com. Rating: NNN
Productions of the Taming of the Shrew always have to deal with the difficulty of the central relationship between the battling Katharina and Petruchio. How can today's audiences accept a browbeaten Kate and a triumphant Petruchio?
Director David Ferry's take on the show and the chemistry between actors Elizabeth Saunders and Paulino Nunes gives the ShakespeareWorks version a believable grounding. Each an outsider, the two characters feel a mutual spark from their first meeting. Petruchio is bitter over his father's death - we even see him mourning over the father's portrait - and cut off from his emotions. Treated as a piece of merchandise, Kate is unable to make a human connection with anyone around her.
Their relationship, much of it based in mutual wit play, grows nicely under Ferry's touch from the initial bond of confederacy they seem to share. It's not by chance that Nunes's Petruchio is often on his knees before Kate; part of him is always wooing her, offering himself as a soulmate, and his actions throw her off balance. She has to witness his falling apart, too, before she realizes how much the two of them have in common.
Kate's troublesome final speech doesn't quite come off - a problem of the writing, not of Saunders, who gives fine fire to the character - but the action that follows it does, cementing the union between the two. This is a pair who have learned to share their laughter.
Working with a cast skilled in comedy, Ferry sets the action in 1913 Italy, adds a little Italian and does a bit of rewriting. There's not much gained by turning the widow and the pedant into Germans, but the director's take on the material largely works.
Marion Day's Bianca isn't the usual kewpie doll little sister but, rather, a conniving manipulator, while Ryan Field 's Lucentio has just the right kind of youthful energy.
Stewart Arnott is wonderfully funny as the elderly suitor Gremio, here resembling the central character in Death In Venice.
As the servants, Paul Braunstein , Dylan Roberts and Christopher Morris know how to get laughs with the text and some broad comedy; masquerading as his master Field, Morris does everything with an overt theatrical flourish and looks like he's about to break into a song-and-dance routine.
This Shrew, its story clearly told, is a populist production filled with music and laughter. Its serious element resonates believably, but what stays with you is the play's entertainment rather than its sexual politics.