Shrew in the Adams House Kronauer Space is not so much a presentation of Shakespeare's comedy The Taming of the Shrew as it is an homage to it. Director Julia Jarcho '03 uses The Taming of the Shrew as a point of departure in a fast-paced exploration of the collective drives and desires in our sex-charged modern culture. Stripping the text to the barest of its essentials (four performers and a running time of under an hour), Jarcho built upon the loose structural foundation by incorporating erotic readings from and about Pauline Reage's 1965 The Story of O to highlight themes of submission and domination within the play's power structure.
Powerfully simple lighting and the simmering background of of throbbing sound design created by Harry Kimballs '03 fill the cramped space with a disconcerting and aggressive atmosphere that puts the Kronauer's limited capabilities to excellent use.
The performance itself is strongest when it is most experimental; Shrew tends to stumble when it gets further away from innovation. The opening scene has Bianca (Meg Weathers '04) physically tied to a chair by her elder sister Kate (Sarah Porter, '03), making the power struggle both highly visual and immediate. The intensity of the moment, however, quickly finds itself with nowhere to go, and much of the energy dissipates as the dialogue of the scene progresses. In a variety of roles, among them Baptista, the girls' father, Jack Riccobono '03 shifts between several partially successful attempts at development-difficult enough when playing a single character in such a drastically cut script. Dabbling with incessant movement, puppetry, accents and sadistic depravation, Riccobono's numerous quirks ultimately seem to be more for their own sake and less about adding to either the themes of the piece or the dramatic action.
The most solid performance of the show comes from Ben Margo '04 in a turn as Petruchio, perhaps Shakespeares least likable comic character. Margo's relentless, efficient, emotionless portrait of the man who must break Kate's independent spirit focuses more upon the social necessity of curbing the Shrew's temperament and less upon the subsequent sexual conquest of her unwilling body. While this occasionally stands in contrast with the other themes brought out in the production, it is also one of its most successful elements.
Director Jarcho wanted Shrew to be painful to watch in a good way; though generally evocative, this production tends to show the audience its edge without actually cutting anyone with it. If anything even vaguely experimental ever happened in the Loeb Experimental Theatre, then Shrew might have had a home. As is, this production is both a remarkable exercise of an under-utilized alternative theatrical space and an effective revisitation of a powerful and poignant comedy.