The Denver Center Theatre Company presents William Shakespeare's controversial comedy THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, playing now through February 26th. The original Kiss Me Kate follows ladies' man Petruchio as he takes on the challenge of transforming the stubborn Katherine into an obedient bride, putting her through multiple tests involving physical and mental hoops that grow more and more absurd and hilarious as she digs her heels in. Director Kent Thompson has ingeniously set this classic battle of the sexes in 1950s America, a time when men were men and women were expected to be subservient decorations. This version of Willy's 16th century exploration of family expectations, courtship rituals, marriage as an institution, identity, love, and sex is a fun, physical, social exploration of what it means to be a woman – in 1590, 1950, and 2012.
The show opens with lovelorn Lucentio plotting with his servant to spend time with his lovely love, Bianca. Along with suitors Gremio and Hortensio, Lucentio concocts a scheme to marry off Bianca's older, less desirable sister Katherine so they can have courting access to the comely Bianca. You see, per Baptista Minola of Padua's rule (and daddy's mandate), no one is allowed to woo Bianca until her older sister Katherine is married. In comes Petruchio to tame the wild, nonconforming Kate (their first encounter is quite violent, an odd sort of tug-of-war) and they end up getting married in a peculiar and hilarious wedding ceremony. In Act II, we enter Petruchio's domain in Verona. This "home on the range" with his oddball staff almost seems like an episode of Hee Haw – the choreography for the dinner table scene just about brought down the house! From here we flip, we flop, we careen sideways and up and down as Petruchio deploys a series of torturous lessons that Kate must endure, which at times are disturbing to witness, but also enjoyable in a sick, sadistic way. Meanwhile, every heterosexual male within a 100 mile radius clamors to court Bianca, though her heart belongs to Lucentio. Thus commences the comedy of errors with not one, but two, Vincentios (Lucentio's wealthy father) tossed into the mix. In the end, identities are revealed and everyone is happily coupled. And who doesn't love a Shakespearean romp that boasts an all-out girl fight at the end? Really. Who?
The cast members bring their all to this devilishly delicious debacle. Kathleen McCall as the flame- flinging Katherine is clever and funny. She captivated the audience from the get-go, and held it all the way through her painful transformation from unruly maiden to "proper" wife. Her final monologue would make Willy proud. John G. Preston as her suitor and tamer Petruchio is a tall delight. While it was strange to hear Shakespeare with a southern twang, Preston immersed himself in his character, with great success – the audience loved his rakishly rogue ways – and Drew Cortese as Lucentio brings his scheming character to life with humor and hubris. But, really, it's the servants who get to have the most fun and keep the potentially confusing plot moving forward. Sir Willy was big on dynamic duos (best friends, romantic partners, dueling gangs) and the performances by Matt Zambrano (Tranio) and Patrick Halley (Biondello) feel like an homage to the great comic duos of Abbott and Costello, Lucy and Ricky, George and Gracie. I couldn't wait to see what this hilarious team would do next! Andrew Schwartz as Grumio, Petruchio's groom servant, travels above and beyond with his very physical interpretation of the role – another audience favorite. Christy McIntosh, in her Denver Center debut as Bianca, is sumptuously stunning and delectably ditzy – a real treat. As Hortensio, John-Michael Marrs's Shakespearean Elvis impersonation is side-splittingly superb and RAndy Moore as out-of-luck Gremio is simultaneously sweet and sad. Robert Sicular as Baptista Minola commands the stage as distraught daddy, and Mike Hartman and Philip Pleasants as the two Valentinos are an added delight. The veteran actors have an obvious camaraderie and familiarity; they seem to really enjoy playing off one another. Maurice Jones makes a mark in his small role as Petruchio's flamboyantly flaming tailor. The audience loved him! How wonderful, too, that almost the entire final class of The National Theatre Conservatory is able to participate in this riot of a show. Nice work, fellow players!