Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 5, 2007

"The Taming of the Shrew"

Majestic Theater, West Springfield
Through December 9
By Shera Cohen

For Shakespeare purists, the Majestic's production of "Taming of the Shrew" might disappoint. For the rest of the world (okay, Western MA), it is a huge hit. What a shame many believe Shakespeare and 16th century dialogue is over their heads. "Shrew" is especially easy for Bard novices to understand – perhaps the reason it is often performed and the reason it will receive kudos for the next six weeks in West Springfield.

The plot is well-known, with the overall concept being the battle of the sexes. Five centuries ago, women did as their husbands commanded. Shakespeare, however, was a playwright ahead of his time, whose females were oftentimes strong-willed. "Shrew" can be a benchmark for feminism.

This production is based on the original script – a play within a play. A troupe of actors happen by a drunkard, don him in regal duds, tell him that he slept for 15 years, and entertain him. The drunkard becomes a member of the audience.

This presentation, more than any other, takes the play within a play quite literally and hysterically, with an abundance of shtick, cheesy props, and oh-so-fake sound effects. Chris Rohmann directs his cast of 15 with a sense of delight and whimsy as a mix of Keystone Cops, Three Stooges, and "Mad TV." There is no shame (in fact, the opposite) in jamming as many gimmicks, pratfalls, and slapstick that can possibly fit in the two-hour show. Several lines stolen from other Shakespeare plays add to the fun. One would guess that William (Will, to his friends) is smiling at this 21st century adaptation.

Alan Schneider and Marina Morrow handle their leading roles with determination and fun. Schneider revels in taming his shrew. It is a pleasure to see some Majestic "regulars" tackle Shakespeare: David Healey, Steve Henderson, Chris Carey, Stuart Gamble, and Roger Patnode. The latter portrays the sound effects man with the job of ringing the Round 1 boxing bell as the men and women fight. Dan Robert is especially funny and very cute in drag.

Amy Davis' huge landscape stage design of brick, glass, cement, and wood easily creates multiple sets. The sound crew cleverly fills any time gaps (the play's start, set changes) with music, appropriately, from "Kiss Me Kate."