Too tame

The Taming of the Shrew

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Kenneth Nowell
Looking Glass Theatre
422 W 57th St. (307-9467)
Non-union production (closes Oct. 12)
Review by Sarah Stevenson

"What would happen in a world where women have all the power?" This is the question behind the Looking Glass Theatre's Taming of the Shrew, which features a reverse-gender cast. (What this means is that the male characters are now female, and vice-versa -- it doesn't mean the actors were in drag). This is an interesting twist on the device of cross-gender casting and is an intriguing concept to apply to Shrew, in which the central plot involves a man transforming a feisty woman into a "perfect wife" -- silent, obedient, and docile.

A reverse-gender adaptation, where the woman tames the man, in a world where men become the sex objects, should have potential. Yet in this imaginary world, would the women really prance around n miniskirts and high heels? The brilliant set design (by director Nowell) featured a disturbing collage of fashion magazine spreads. The logical step would be to set this up as a contrast to the world presented by the production, but instead Nowell seems to have bought this image of woman so fully that even in a world where the supposedly powerful women have control, they act out the worst possible gender stereotypes, swishing their hips and striking poses. Even in the opening montage, in which the would-be suitors inspect and dismiss the male Kate (Andrew Boyer), any attempt to establish the man as the sex-object was completely undermined by Alison Pazz's Gremio, who jumped onto the pedestal and posed suggestively, her short, tight, bare-shouldered dress rendering negligible any contrast to the sexist objectification of women in the fashion magazines, and any notion of female power.

And just as the women were undercut by their costumes, they were also not allowed to exert any active ower. It seems almost as if showing women ordering men about was too unpalatable for the director, so his female Petruchio (Veronica Watt) gained power in the most stereotypical female way: she threw temper tantrums, weepily demanding Kate's obedience. All of the women seemed to slap each other in this world, their interaction dominated by girlie-fights. Deana Howes, Amity Bork, and Anna Kelley played a trio of servants who seemed like a surreal female kindergarten class, pinching each other and giggling, and generally being hysterical. If women supposedly have all the power in this world, why portray them as shrill, squealing kindergartners?

The one successful element in the reverse-gender refiguring of the roles is that most of the things that Boyer's Kate said seemed perfectly justified, pointing up the fact that it is merely because a woman is expected not to speak that the original Kate is labeled a shrew. Yet even so, Boyer's docility at the end never managed to seem shocking, as one might expect that it would. Instead he seemed straight out of the "courtly lover" tradition in which the man swears to worship and be commanded by his beloved, so common in the poetry of the period. Men, it thus seems, can have it either way. Women, on the other hand, are incapable of over-stepping their gender roles.

Boyer and Watt are clearly fine actors, with a firm grasp of Shakespearean language. Lori Funk (Tranio) proved an able comedian. Linda Pia Ignazi (Grumio) showed a rich voice and superb comic timing. But ultimately, if the point of reverse-gender casting is to get a fresh perspective on stereotypes and sex roles, why buy into them so completely?

(Also featuring Najla Said, Anika Larsen, Stafford Clark Price, and Kathryn Burke. Costumes were by Erika Nilson. Lighting was by Bridget Welty.)

Box Score:
Script: 2
Direction: 0
Set: 2
Costumes: 0
Lighting/Sound: 1