Originally published on July 5, 2018 by Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal (“A New Twist On Shakespeare: Playing It Straight”).
In the #MeToo moment, how can “The Taming of the Shrew” be staged without setting off alarm bells of political incorrectness? The best way, it strikes me, is to play it the way Shakespeare wrote it, as a slapstick comedy in which a proto-feminist hellion gets her comeuppance at the hands of an arrogant man, and let the audience draw its own conclusions about what it’s seeing. This is more or less the way Shana Cooper approaches the play in her Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival directorial debut, and the results are consistently satisfying—the best “Shrew” I’ve ever reviewed, in fact.
Ms. Cooper, a newish face on the theatrical scene, has written a program note that bristles with up-to-the-minute notions (“The world of ‘Taming’ is one…in which women are judged and punished for not adhering to the rules of the game as dictated by a patriarchal society”). But whatever her production really “means,” Ms. Cooper’s “Shrew” plays as a riotously bawdy baggy-pants farce, one whose director is unafraid to opt for broad comic gestures and whose cast is more than happy to oblige her. Petruchio (Biko Eisen-Martin) is a lanky hipster, while Kate ( Liz Wisan ) is a strong, beautiful woman with the bold energy of a stand-up comedian whose weary demeanor at play’s end unobtrusively hints that her will has been broken by—yes—the patriarchy. Part of what is so pleasing about this staging, though, is that it doesn’t whack you over the head with Kate’s fate: Instead, you’re expected to connect the dots yourself.
Ásta Hostetter’s colorful costumes are amusingly varied in style, while Erika Chong Shuch, the choreographer, has contributed dance numbers so foot-tappingly rousing as to make me wish that she and Ms. Cooper would now try their hands at “Kiss Me, Kate.” The supporting cast is up to the marks set by Mr. Eisen-Martin and Ms. Wisan, with special honors going to Triney Sandoval, whose noisy Gremio recalls Gilbert Gottfried (with a pinch of Al Pacino added for extra silliness). An old hand whose face will be familiar to “Law & Order” buffs, he is a scene-stealing Shakespearean clown of very high merit. As for Ms. Cooper, she’s a find, a director of great promise whose work I expect to see again soon.