‘Taming of the Shrew’ in rep at American Shakespeare Center is an entertaining triumph

Director José Zayas offers a thought-provoking and modern take on the play.

Nestled in the picturesque town of Staunton (STAN-tuhn), Virginia, the American Shakespeare Center delivers an entertaining triumph with its production of The Taming of the Shrew. Director José Zayas offers a thought-provoking and modern take on the play’s central theme: the taming of an independent and spirited woman by a suitor who is seeking to “wife it wealthily.”

The story centers on the headstrong Katherina and her beautiful younger sister, Bianca. Their father, Baptista, declares that Bianca cannot marry until Katherina finds a husband. Petruchio is a money-hungry adventure seeker who takes on the challenge to woo the shrew and also gain her dowry. He employs manipulative and abusive methods to tame her and eventually wins her affections and obedience. Bianca’s suitors resort to disguises and trickery to pursue her. The play concludes with a public display of Katherina’s transformation into an obedient wife, and she speaks on the duty of a wife to her husband. Despite the controversial themes and behaviors of its lead characters, the play remains a renowned Shakespearean comedy for its humor and exploration of gender dynamics.

Jess Kadish, Philip Orazio, Meg Rodgers, Alexis Baigue, and Gabriela Castillo-Miranda in ’The Taming of the Shrew.’ Photo by October Grace Media.

What sets this production apart is the inclusion of the original framing device of a play within a play, featuring a group of nobles finding a drunken man named Christopher Sly (Philip Orazio) on the street. The wealthy lord played by Jess Kadish decides to play a trick on the man and convince him that he is wealthy, surrounding him with servants and telling him he had been asleep for 15 years. In addition to playing the wealthy Lord, Kadish plays the tempestuous leading lady Katherina. The choice to have the same actor in both roles is a clever way to update the story so that we are hearing and viewing the story through her voice.

We soon meet the players of the tale at hand: Petruchio as played by Aidan O’Reilly is charismatic, chaotic, and chauvinistic. O’Reilly’s organic and unencumbered performance is a compelling contrast to Kadish’s assertive approach as Katherina. Their first interactions are like oil and water until Petruchio eventually wins her affections through erratic and emotional brute force. The text is unchanged, so their interactions are rife with manipulation, gaslighting, and abuse. It is well acted, but uncomfortable nonetheless.

The supporting roles are filled by the talented repertory cast, including Corrie Green as Bianca and Nic Sanchez as Lucentio. (The two are also starring in rep as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.) Alexis Baigue is delightfully detestable as Gremio, showing his physical comedy prowess and cringe-worthy character choices. Meg Rodgers as Grumio is another standout who makes the most of her moments through funny audience interactions. (I’m looking forward to seeing Rodgers in a larger role as Hero in Much Ado About Nothing.)

The American Shakespeare Center employs staging very similar to Elizabethan-era productions including simple set pieces, live music, and practical sound effects. The rhythms of iambic pentameter pair wonderfully with the onstage music provided by piano, timpani, and other instruments. I also recommend arriving 30 minutes before showtime so you can enjoy some pre-show pleasantries from the performers. Our pre-show included the cast performing modern songs that give nods to the gender roles of the show.

Clockwise for top left: Brandon Carter and Erica Cruz Hernández; Aidan O’Reilly and Meg Rodgers; Aidan O’Reilly, Meg Rodgers, and Brandon Carter; Meg Rodgers and Aidan O’Reilly in ’The Taming of the Shrew.’ Photos by October Grace Media.

The ASC’s Blackfriars Playhouse is the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Theatre, his indoor venue, and it offers an immersive experience for the audience. The architectural design features many of the aesthetic details of the original, and the performers incorporate the audience frequently during the show, especially those sitting on the stage. There are a variety of views to consider when purchasing tickets. If you are eager to interact with the performers, then sitting on the Stage or the First Level where the Groundlings once stood may be best. A view from the Second Level is a spectacular way to see, hear, and feel the story as nobles once did at the original Blackfriars.

Overall, the American Shakespeare Center’s Taming of the Shrew is a very entertaining production. With its commitment to original Shakespearean staging practices, historic setting, and dedicated repertory company, it is a destination that captures the essence of Shakespeare’s works while creating a lasting impact on theatergoers and the surrounding community.

Running Time: Two hours plus one 15-minute intermission.

The Taming of the Shrew plays through August 12, 2023, presented by American Shakespeare Center in repertory with Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing at the Blackfriars Playhouse, 10 South Market Street, Staunton, VA. For tickets ($27–$55), call the box office at (540) 851-3400, or purchase them online. 

Credits for The Taming of the Shrew are online here (click on “cast” and on “artistic team”). ASC’s digital program for summer 2023 is online here.

COVID Safety: American Shakespeare Center strongly encourages patrons to mask when possible. ASC’s complete COVID-19 Safety Visitor’s Guide is here.

The Repertory Company includes Aidan O’Reilly, Alexis Baigue, Angela Iannone, Brandon Carter, Corrie Green, Erica Cruz Hernandez, Gabriela Castillo-Miranda, Jack Young, Jess Kadish, Joe Mucciolo, Meg Rodgers, Nic Sanchez, Philip Orazio.


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