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Theater Review: “Shrew!”

“Shrew!” plays through April 21, 2018 at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.
Photo credit:
Debora Robinson

“The Taming of the Shrew” has been a problematic play from the beginning, especially with that last scene of a “tamed” Kate advising women to put a hand beneath their husband’s foot as a sign of submission.

The years since then have only intensified women’s discomfort with the play.

Still, “Shrew” is the second most popular play in the Bard’s canon. Or the eighth, depending on which source you read. In either case, go figure.

Now playwright Amy Freed offers her take on “Kate the cursed” in the world premiere of “Shrew!” through April 24 at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

Freed hasn’t changed much of the original. Kate’s dad Baptista (Martin Kildare) is still holding prettier, more agreeable daughter Bianca (Sierra Jolene) and her countless suitors hostage to the fate of older sister Katherine (Susannah Rogers), she of the sharp tongue and little use for sycophantic suitors/.

She still likes wilfulness and good wordplay, though, and Elijah Alexander’s Petruchio gives as good as he gets in these departments.

Freed, like Will, makes considerable use of diversionary tactics like clowns for laughs, and this group promises plenty of merriment. Giggles at the expense of Mike McShane’s ancient suitor Gremio also abound: such an easy target.

So when Petruchio marries her (much against her will) and drags her off to his freezing digs, then has the effrontery to send her to bed alone, what else can she do but sing “If I Had a Hammer.”

Okay, that’s mildly amusing, and there’s a macarena and a tarantella, and  a wry comment from Petruchio to Kate that “you’ve been reading Sylvia Plath.”

Susannah Rogers sparkles as the shrew, but Freed doesn’t let her get far enough away from the Bard’s version to let us women cheer for her.

Elijah Alexander’s Petruchio gets most of the action (and he’s fun to watch), but he doesn’t stray far from the original either.

And darn it, the comedy isn’t all that funny. Even (or especially) Kate (who in the opening bit doubles as a Writer, vowing to “fix” the play that George Bernard Shaw called “altogether disgusting to modern sensibility”) ends up with a mealy-mouthed pitch for togetherness and mutual respect. She doesn’t put her hand under Petruchio’s foot, but she comes pretty close.

The other men in the play seem a bit lost and/or extraneous, and though the production values (sets and costumes, sound and lighting design) are fine, the whole adds up to a disappointment.

The details

“Shrew!” plays through April 21, 2018 at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2:30 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 pm

Tickets: (714) 708-5555 or www.scr.org