Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fakery and Farce Play Out in Shrew

My review of Actors' Shakespeare Project's production of The Taming of the Shrew, published October 20, 2009:

Actors’ Shakespeare Project opens its sixth season with a light, funny and modern production of The Taming of the Shrew, swelling with hoaxes and mockery. In this, one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, we witness a male world of competing and bidding for, winning and taming the perfect wife. The clashing chauvinism of the plot is diminished by the farcical treatment of many of the arrogant wife tamers. We enjoy a play within a play with many layers of assumed identities that lead to hilarious asides throughout, and a surprise ending in which the two most put upon characters outface the fakers.

The production opens with a practical joke played on the drunken rogue, Christopher Sly. Perpetrated by the staff at a speak-easy, Sly wakes from a stupor with an abundance of fake success: social, financial and marital. Convinced that he is a Lord, Sly is presented with a busboy dressed in drag for his wife, and a performance of players who happened to wander into the scene of his prank. ASP expands Sly’s role from the original script. Instead of an insipid, duped drunk who dozes off during the first Act, he is captivated by the performance, stealing lines from the actors and finally jumping into the action. Sly assumes the role of the witty and pretentious Petruchio and secures the prize most coveted by the men in this play—a loving and obedient wife.

Director Melia Bensussen ingeniously maneuvers around the disappearance of Sly after Act I. The beggar who awakes to find himself suddenly surrounded by riches demands some sort of resolution, whether a discovered respectability for this rogue or a return to his former misfortunes. Shakespeare has left us without resolution, and the intriguing induction to the play feels abruptly truncated. By incorporating Sly into the performance, ASP gives the audience answers while remaining true to the text. This also allows Benjamin Evett, who takes the role of Sly in this production, to live up to his character’s name. This device demands that the artifice of the play be constantly reinforced; the players, the busboy, the bartender and the proprietor are all acting. These double or triple parts accentuate the role of imitation and pretense in Shrew. By adding layers of fakery, the production allows for a new perspective on Kate’s final speech of submission and Christopher Sly’s wordless disappearance....

Read on at Playshakespeare.com

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