Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's coverage of the 2016 Helen Hayes Awards and her review of Bakersfield Mist

Photo by Scott Suchman
Many theaters are reaching out to make their performances "immersive" or "interactive," whether by inviting audience members onstage or staging some of the action in the audience. Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar has opened up William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew so it dominates the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, but the overall sense is exhaustion rather than exhilaration.

To begin with, the director frames the journey of Katherina (Maulik Pancholy), the outspoken "shrew," and Petruchio (Peter Gadiot), the adventurer who marries her for money and "tames" her behavior through mind games and some violence, as a metaphor for creating an authentic life and undergoing personal change. That's fine, but Iskandar adds so many amendments to the script and embellishments in the staging that the plot seems less important than the spectacle.

Iskandar understands the problematic side of Shakespeare's plot, in that Katherina discovers her "authentic" self by adjusting her behavior to whatever Petruchio may say or do at any given moment. So as not to inflict such treatment on a female performer, he has cast men in the three female roles: in addition to Katherina, her beautiful and desirable sister Bianca (Oliver Thornton), and a nameless Widow (Rick Hammerly) who ends up with one of Bianca's former suitors. All that does is to take actual women out of the equation.

A few of Iskandar's other tweaks are puzzling. Why has he turned Gremio (André De Shields), usually an aging but wealthy suitor of Bianca, into a cardinal? (So much else is happening that tossing in a bit of religious corruption and hypocrisy seems like piling on.) His inspiration of interpolating moody songs by Duncan Sheik may add depth to the characters, but it also slows down the action and adds noticeably to the running time. Quirkiest of all is the decision to turn the intermission into a 30-minute-long "Intermezzo" when audience members can buy drinks and hang out onstage while the characters illuminate the subtext in dance and flirtation. It's too much of a good thing that would have been better with less.

For all that, Pancholy brings genuine dignity and gravitas to Katherina. The other standouts are more outrageous: Tom Story's silly walk, De Shields' larger-than-life embodiment of several roles, the exaggerated drama of Hammerly's performance, and the way Petruchio's servants literally turn themselves into furniture for their master.

Also, the immersion process begins before the audience enters the auditorium. The second-floor lobby of Sidney Harman Hall has been turned into a shopping piazza featuring such products as artisan chocolates and other gourmet food products, pottery, and framed antique postcards. An affiliated "finishing school" offers classes in arts and crafts.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Taming of the Shrew
May 17th - June 26th
By William Shakespeare

The House of Minola:
Baptista Minola, a couturier of Padua: Bernard White
Katherina Minola, his older daughter: Maulik Pancholy
Bianca Minola, his younger daughter: Oliver Thornton

The House of Bentivolli:
Vincentio, a couturier from Pisa: André De Shields
Lucentio, his son: Telly Leung
Tranio, his tutor: Matthew Russell

The Establishment:
Gremio, a Cardinal: André De Shields
Hortensio, a rich citizen: Tom Story
The Contessa, not yet a widow: Rick Hammerly

The Laborers:
Petruchio, a cotton farmer from Verona: Peter Gadiot
Gremio, his man: Gregory Linington
Curtis, his cook: André De Shields
A Tailor: Bernard White
A Haberdasher: Oliver Thornton

The Indigent:
Biondello, a fixer: Drew Foster
A Pedant, from Mantua: Rick Hammerly

The Ensemble:
Fixers/Minola's Staff/Petruchio's Crew: James Crichton, Stephen Elrod, Jamison Foreman, Jackson Knight Pierce, Brian Reisman, Nicholas Yenson

Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

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