Taming of the Shrew a Clownish Delight at Houston Shakespeare Festival

See our review of Houston Shakespeare Festival's Othello here. The setup: Act Two of the Houston Shakespeare Festival is off to a rousing start with its production of The Taming of the Shrew. The festival is now directed by University of Houston Drama Department head Steve Wallace, who appears to have breathed new life into the summer institution. The execution: UH drama professor Jack Young directs the show as a high-energy romp, more a farce about mistaken identity than an anti-feminist manifesto. Shrew's plot is too complicated to summarize here in detail. Let's just say this is a story of two Italian sisters and their suitors. Traditionally, one of the sisters, Bianca (Amelia Hammond), is the good girl -- a mild and obedient daughter of a rich man, Baptista (Paul Hope). Meanwhile, the infamous Kate (Tracie Thomason) is the same rich man's rebellious, combative, "shrewish" daughter.

All the suitable men want to marry Bianca; nobody wants Kate. Despairing of ever finding Kate a husband, Baptista decrees that Bianca can't marry until Kate is wed. There's competition among suitors for Bianca's hand, though Lucentio (Grant Davis) has the inside track. The swaggering Petruchio (Luke Thomas Eddy) takes on the challenge of "taming" Kate.

Young presents the play as a bright, over-the-top farce that a modern audience can relate to. Instead of groaning at lines about wives obeying their husbands, you can laugh at the nutty quality of all the characters and simply delight in the commedia dell'arte-style energy -- in the clowning, in other words.

The verdict: Under Young's direction, the play becomes a colorful, giddy spectacle. Both Eddy and Thompson brawl with gusto. The crowd ate it up; I'm not sure I've ever heard a Miller Theatre crowd applaud a Shakespeare performance with such gusto.

Through August 7. For information, visit milleroutdoortheatre.org.

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