Short Shakespeare! The Taming of the Shrew Review - The Classic Battle of the Sexes

Petruchio (Matt Mueller) attempts to woo Katharina (Ericka Ratcliff)

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s (CST) Short Shakespeare! series has been introducing families to the works of the Great Bard for several years now.  Their recent take on The Taming of the Shrew continues that tradition by offering an abridged, seventy five minute production that focuses on a wandering Petruchio’s attempts at taming the very strong willed Katharina.  Director Rachel Rockwell does a good job of making the play family accessible by playing up the physical humor of the story.  She also introduces plenty of sight gags such as having key characters don novelty sunglasses.  The play also makes good use of up tempo beats in order to emphasize critical junctures in the story.  I found most of this complementary to the story, although I did find one crowd pleasing disco-esque moment a bit distracting for my taste. 

Petrucio (Matt Mueller), Katharina (Ericka Ratcliff), and Baptista Minola (Don Forston)

This was my third review of a CST production, and I have begun to see a pattern of acting and direction emphasized over setting and special effects.  Although costumes here are wonderfully designed, the set design is much more minimal.  In contrast, seven of the thirteen actors are members of Actors Equity and all appeared professional and more than up to the task of handling Shakespeare.  Considering how it is that the lyrical language employed by Shakespeare has thrilled audiences for hundreds of years (and not, say, his ideas on lighting), I think this emphasis on delivering the lines well is the right decision. 

Lucentio (Nicholas Harzin) professes his love to Bianca (Tiffany Yvonee Cox)

In this production, Ericka Ratcliff and Matt Mueller make an especially convincing Katharina and Petruchio.  Under Rachel Rockwell’s direction, Ericka Ratcliff demonstrates just the right amount of fury and unpredictability without ever seeming over the top and, thus, unbelievable.  She also is able to deftly communicate growth in her character which helps one better swallow the idea of her being “tamed.”  Her counterpart, Matt Mueller, uses his natural charm and easy going mannerisms to make Petruchio a likeable character (which is not a given considering how controling he becomes).  There is a natural chemistry between the two actors and their eventual embrace of one another feels right.  Mathew Sherbach (Hortensio) provides a significant amount of comic relief without ever having to work hard for a laugh.  Terrence Mosley (Grumio) and Jessie Fisher (Biondella) also contributed much in their nuanced and engaging performances. 

Tranio (Alex Goodrich) and Biondella (Jessie Fisher)

Hortensio (Mathew Sherbach)

Short Shakespeare! The Taming of the Shrew is at its best when at its silliest.  Throughout the play characters often chased and/ or wrestled with one another, instruments are broken over heads, and a knowing look often emphasizes a good pun.  Even the character’s underwear is good for a few good laughs.  At times the production was surprisingly risqué.  Although tamer than a typical Glee episode, there were a few not so subtle jokes and one phallic visual sight gag that would not have made the cut in an elementary school play.  Although my eight year old daughter and friend loved the play, I think the intended audience for the play was probably more the pre-teen to teenager set. 

Katharina (Ericka Ratcliff) affirms her love for Petrucio (Matt Mueller)

Bottom Line:  Short Shakespeare! The Taming of the Shrew is highly recommended for slightly older families (ages ten and older).  Tickets range from $16 to $20 (or slightly more than what it costs to go to a movie) and validated parking will cost you another $14. Actors are available immediately after the performance to answer questions on stage as well as sign autographs in the lobby.  Performances are at 11 A.M. on Saturday from now until April 7, 2012.  To purchase tickets, follow this link:,62,8

All photos by Liz Lauren

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