Review: 'The Taming of the Shrew' by Connecticut Free Shakespeare

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

By the end of the play Petruchio and Kate have established their own unique road map to find their way--one that is equal in love and humor, equal in strength and equal in respect.” - Ellen Lieberman, the director of Connecticut Free Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Stratford, CT - I was excited to return to the grounds of the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in my hometown of Stratford CT. It didn't matter that I had to bring my lawn chair and bug spray or even that no one was allowed into the once beautiful theater that I remembered from my visits when I was just a teenaged Shakespeare lover. I could not miss a chance to see a production of a play by William Shakespeare on the historic grounds with a lovely view of Long Island Sound and I claimed a spot on the lawn with a large crowd for opening night of 'The Taming of the Shrew' performed by Connecticut Free Shakespeare. The free performances that run through August 21 are part of Festival! Stratford and the public is encouraged to come early and bring a picnic to enjoy before the comedy begins at 8pm.

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is one of the Bard's comedies that is played very broadly by this troupe of actors and crew, most of whom are Equity members or candidates. This production is labeled a “retelling” of Shakespeare’s play and it was adapted and directed by Stamford CT native Ellen Lieberman. In her notes, she writes that she has resisted producing this piece for the past 16 years because it is “problematic, to say the least.” Over a year ago and with much preliminary study, Ms. Lieberman approached the script as a contemporary feminist and wanted Petruchio and Kate to “negotiate their relationship-still within the broad confines of the familiar battle.” 

The show began even before the curtain speech was over when a young man, perhaps inebriated, crashed the stage loudly singing "Happy," although he was wearing a microphone. The audience knew something was up when the stage managers were called onstage and invited him to put on a costume and sit stage left to watch the performance. Christopher Sly (Western CT State University grad Myles Tripp) did just that and often led the applause and broke into the action. The ensemble, that included WestConn alum James Goggin, sat on both sides of the stage as a kind of Greek Chorus until their entrances. Some provided a wide variety of sound effects that included a slide whistle, train whistle, tambourine, bird tweets and more.

For the most part, the sounds enhanced the slapstick comedy that was used throughout; for the purist, it might have been a little too Laurel and Hardy. It probably made the plot easier to follow for everyone in the audience, which is part of CFS’ mission statement, and did not overshadow the excellent performances of the diverse cast. While the costumes designed by Valarie Henry were Elizabethan, there were some hints of modern times, especially in the music sprinkled throughout. 

Craig Anthony Bannister returned to CFS to play the patriarch Baptista regally, and Karina Foy appeared for her sixth summer as the shrewish Katherina, the Kate who must be tamed by Petruchio, played well by Ian Eaton in his 14th summer with CFS. Marca Leigh played the lovely sister of Kate, Bianca, in pigtails. 

Joel Oramas made his CFS debut as the love struck Lucentio, Ryan Halsaver made his CFS debut as Hortensio, and Andrew Bryce made a very funny CFS debut as Old Gremio in green velvet. Mark Friedlander played the role of the fool Grumio, Uma Incrocci cross dressed to play Tranio well and Company Manager Alejandro Lopez was great in the role of Biondello. Every member of the ensemble served as understudies for a principal role, some pre- and some post-intermission. Speaking of intermission, it was deemed to be a “living intermission” that included singing, dancing with audience members, and the collection of free-will donations in buckets. There was also a list of high school students serving as technical interns. 

This season of Connecticut Free Shakespeare is dedicated to coworker Leroy Walton, who passed away in April at the age of 22. 
The sound for an outdoor venue was excellent and the lighting was good overall and at times spectacular, especially when the trees behind and above the stage were illuminated. If you go, bring picnics, blankets and/or lawn chairs. The shows are cancelled if it is raining; call 203 232-8455 for updates.