- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

Take the essential message from “Lysistrata” (Make war? No, love); add in elements of “Stomp,” “Riverdance,” “Dancing at Lughnasa” and Moliere’s “The School for Wives,” and you have “The Tamer Tamed,” playwright John Fletcher’s 1611 tables-turned sequel to William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The Royal Shakespeare Company has staged an intermittently exuberant, defiant production of the play, directed with well-aimed irreverence by Gregory Doran. In it, the tamed Katherine (Alexandra Gilbreath) of “Shrew” is dead. (The playwright never mentions how she died, probably from the rigors of submission.)

Petruchio (Jasper Britton) has chosen another wife, the seemingly docile Maria (Miss Gilbreath again), and the romantic comedy begins with their happy, flower-strewn nuptials. The flowers quickly wither as Maria locks her new husband out of the bridal chamber at the urging of Bianca (Eve Myles), Katherine’s sister, who seems to have met up with an Elizabethan version of Gloria Steinem in the years after “Taming of the Shrew.” No connubial bliss, Maria maintains, until Petruchio — who has garnered wide and enduring reputation as a “wife-breaker” — succumbs to her will.

Needless to say, Petruchio is not amused by her insubordination. At first, he retreats into the boozy company of men, but then he grows increasingly angry and confounded by the paradox of her words of love and her firmly crossed legs. “They demand liberty and clothes,” he disparages at one point.

Meanwhile, Maria and Bianca glory in their newfound power. Word spreads until the women are joined by others in the region, who gather for a consciousness-raising session, Renaissance-style.

In one of the production’s most joyously electrifying scenes, the women hurl themselves into a foot-stomping, rallying dance. Banging pots, skillets and iron spoons, they cry, “Let it come, let it come, the day when women shall wear the breeches.”

Coarser and plainer than “The Taming of the Shrew,” “The Tamer Tamed” is bereft of Shakespeare’s potent poetry. The play is often clever and entertaining, but there are long dry patches filled with windy speechifying. The play also lacks subtlety. The wedding-night scene, for example, is accompanied by much bandying about of phallic symbols, and every sexual remark is followed by a wagging of the tongue, in case you didn’t get the drift.

“The Tamer Tamed” is bogged down by a weak romantic subplot involving Livia (Naomi Frederick), Maria’s younger sister, who is betrothed to the still-kicking coot Gremio (Christopher Godwin, as sparkling an old rogue as he was in “Shrew”). She would rather marry the pretty fop Rowland (David Horovitch), and it takes the machinations of Bianca and the betting gentleman Tranio (Rory Kinnear) to bring them together.

Still, the production has its merits. Although Miss Gilbreath’s Maria is not the obstinate fireplug that Katherine was, she is a striking life force nonetheless, with passion, resolve and an alluringly husky voice.

At first, you think Mr. Britton’s Petruchio is going to be a continuation of the peevish sot he was in the first play. But Mr. Britton exhibits an engagingly clownish playfulness as the hapless husband, especially in a scene in which he tries out various fake maladies to win sympathy — and beseeches the audience to rate each cough, wheeze and hack.

“The Tamer Tamed” is more of a historical curiosity — it is rarely performed — than a robust play in its own right, but this production is an often rollicking and bawdy skirmish in the battle of the sexes.

**1/2

WHAT: “The Tamer Tamed” by John Fletcher

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Dec. 30. Running in repertory with “The Taming of the Shrew”

TICKETS: $25 to $75

PHONE: 202/467-4600


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