The Tamed "Shrew"
In ancient Greece, we are told, inflated bladders appeared frequently in comedies. Slapped up against actors' heads, and other body parts, the bladders served to emphasize the punch lines of jokes, oral or physical.
No bladders appear on stage in Washington Shakespeare Theatre's opening production for the start of its season. Director Rebecca Bayla Taichman didn't need them.
Her version of "The Taming of the Shrew" summons up far more creative tricks, including a set that resembles an ice house; glass doors and walls that fold within themselves; lighting reveals and conceals: now you see it, now you don't. Beautiful Bianca is standing there and in an eye's blink, then she's not. That quick!
For cast, Ms. Taichman assembled a gorgeous group of eclectic eccentrics who slip into costumes and makeup and come out on stage very weird indeed. Upswept hair here and a ridiculous suit there and you might think the loonies had taken over the world.
The leading actors escape the production's daft touches, most of the time. Still they must deal with Shakespeare's seeming favorite, the old mistaken identity gambit. To woo Lisa Birnbaum's Bianca, who is paraded before the audience as a series of sirens, one more sexy than the former.
To win the fair Bianca, Michael Milligan's Lucentio must assume the role of his servant while the good man (Todd Schofield) poses and prances as his master. Then comes Drew Eshelman as another imposter, pretending to be Lucentio's wealthy sire; the real father nearly winds up in the hoosegow. But "All's well that ends well" said the play's author in another work.
In comedies, old Will replaced sensibility with nonsense. Director Taichman has turned out a splendid example. But she left relatively untouched the play's most important characters.
While there's never doubt Christopher Innvar's Petruchio will tame the shrew, they have at it and good. Have no doubt. Mr. Innvar brings more testosterone to the part than any player I've ever seen; as an actor, his words flow along with his body. He can be lyrical and stern, but never mean.
Matching him syllable for syllable and strut for strut, Charlayne Woodward, as Katherina, is introduced to the audience as unconquerable. Her softening and eventual acquiescence appear to have to do with sexual attraction rather than any of Petruchio's tricks. Ms. Woodward radiates a very strong female glow of her own.
And whatever you've heard or read, "The Taming of the Shrew" comes in as a pair of people looking for escape from the ordinary. When they find each other, their search is over. I've never seen the point more clearly demonstrated than in the Washington Shakespeare Theatre's production.
By my reckoning, you have at best no more than several weeks to get on down to the Seventh Street theatre, in northwest Washington, to learn what life is really all about.
And, not incidentally, how much fun Shakespeare can be.