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The Taming of the Shrew

Arin Arbus directs a rib-tickling, well-acted production of Shakespeare's comedy for Theatre for a New Audience.

Maggie Siff and Andy Grotelueschen
in The Taming of the Shrew
(© Henry Grossman)
Arin Arbus certainly has a way with William Shakespeare, as she's previously proven with her first-rate productions of Othello, Macbeth and Measure for Measure. Now she gives us a downright rib-tickling The Taming of the Shrew, now being presented by Theatre for a New Audience at The Duke on 42nd Street.

Faced with a sometimes problematic work for modern audiences, Arbus has wisely cast a troupe of genuinely amusing comic actors -- and having guessed them up in Anita Yavich's wild Wild-West costumes on Donyale Werle's all-wooden saloon set -- presents them almost as if they're clowns emerging from a circus car.

For this go-round, Petruchio (Andy Grotelueschen) comes to now-Westernized Padua looking to "wive it weathily" and fixes his intentions on Katharina Minola (Maggie Siff), whose reputation for being a bundle of ignited dynamite precedes her and whose disinclination to marry means much-pursued younger and sweeter sister Bianca (Kathryn Saffell) has to wait her turn for who-knows-how-long. While various shenanigans are set in motion by secondary figures, Petruchio goes about putting things right.

Last seen playing both hero and villain in the Fiasco company's Cymbeline, the superb Grotelueschen is much more effective here and gives evidence he's a homegrown Shakespearean with a big future. A decidedly substantial-looking fellow -- bearded with a bald spot in his hair that blows about like tumbleweed -- Grotelueschen takes command by dint of his complete affability. He speaks the poetry so naturally, it seems as if he's expressed himself this way from birth.

Giving this Petruchio almost as good--or as bad--as she gets, Siff has the kind of piercing eyes that make men cower at the sight of her. Equally importantly, she's convincing as a woman who saves time by throwing the hems of her clothes over her shoulder and climbing ladders to get where she wants to be.

If anything decelerates Siff's performance, it's that she allows herself to be tamed earlier than is the usual instance (a situation which may be traceable to dialogue-trimming). On the other hand, when she finally admits she's "ashamed that women are so simple," she does it with a tone that says she realizes feigning submission is the path to domination, or equality.

Moreover, supporting players Saxon Palmer, John Christopher Jones, John Pankow, Peter Maloney, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Denis Butkus, and John Keating each find one moment to stand out, while Mattew Cowles does quite well as drunken tinker Christopher Sly, whom the troupe of traveling thespians -- Shrew is really a play within a play -- convince that he's a lord watching a performance staged for his pleasure.

Indeed, Arbus gets additional laughs by having the cast members josh dated acting styles and, more pointedly with the touchy subject matter, distancing from present-day attitudes Shakespeare's message about women putting a hand under their man's foot. She's a sly one, for sure.