The Wall Street Journal has given me a second drama column this week in which to review the Public Theater’s Central Park production of The Taming of the Shrew. Here’s an excerpt.
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“The Taming of the Shrew,” like “The Mikado,” is one of those theatrical masterpieces that have been rendered all but unperformable by the rise of militant political correctness. It’s been six years since I last reviewed a “Shrew,” and the only reason why this one, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, was deemed suitable for performance in Central Park by the Public Theater is that it’s being performed by an all-female cast. The problem with this production, however, isn’t that it’s politicized—it’s that it’s not very funny. Boisterous and good-humored, yes, but “The Taming of the Shrew” is a comedy or nothing, and I’ve never seen a staging that made me laugh less.
The culprit is presumably Ms. Lloyd, who is most familiar to American audiences as the director of “The Iron Lady” and the film version of “Mamma Mia!” but is known in her native England as a stage director of distinction. Be that as it may, there isn’t much in her resumé to suggest that comedy is her forte, and little in this production to contradict that impression. While it’s full of baggy-pants slapstick, the timing of the gags is loose, unsure and short on the head-turning, split-second snap of surprise without which such antics invariably come off as noisy rather than funny.
Similarly bothersome is the conceptual vagueness of the production, whose setting is, or appears to be, a seedy big-top tent. No sooner do you enter the outdoor theater than you see Mark Thompson’s set and think, “Oh, I get it—a ‘Shrew’ set in a circus! Petruchio will be…a lion tamer!” But then the play gets under way with a beauty-pageant talent contest, followed by a series of equally over-obvious visual non sequiturs (Petruchio and Kate spend their honeymoon in an motor home whose exterior is festooned with Vargas-type pin-up girls and whose license plate reads PISA-ASS) that fail to add up to anything in particular….
Could it be that the in-your-face feminism of Ms. Lloyd’s staging, in which Petruchio (Janet McTeer) makes “his” entrance toting an outsized pair of pink handcuffs, is somehow getting in the way of the laughs? I can’t see it. There’s nothing intrinsically unfunny, after all, about a “Shrew” whose modus operandi is to have women in drag exaggerate stereotypical male behavior. The best musical revival of 2015, Jessica Stone’s Two River Theater production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” was an all-male version whose casting deliberately inverted the show’s dumb-blonde stereotypes to bold comic effect….
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Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for The Taming of the Shrew: