Through June 26, free, 8:00
William Shakespeare, protofeminist? Well, not exactly. But in the hands of Tony-nominated director Phyllida Lloyd, Bard fans are offered a new way to look at Shakespeare’s troubling play about women’s submission at the hands of devious men. Lloyd, who previously helmed all-woman versions of Julius Caesar and Henry IV at St. Ann’s (as well as Mamma Mia! on Broadway), now takes the same route with The Taming of the Shrew, continuing at the Public’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park through June 26. Mark Thompson’s set and costumes create a kind of traveling circus atmosphere as a Donald Trump sound-alike introduces beauty-pageant contestants, instantly demeaning women in multiple ways. The women, who come in all the shapes and sizes that the presumptive Republican nominee for president would clearly not approve of, sing and dance, wearing giant smiles on their faces. But Katherina (Cush Jumbo), whose sister is the beautiful, ditzy blonde Bianca (Gayle Rankin), wants no part of this sideshow, demanding to make her own decisions and refusing to kowtow to any man.
Her words are so harsh and brutal that the men in Padua treat her as a kind of laughingstock, wanting nothing to do with her. But when her wealthy father, Baptista (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), declares that until Katherina, his eldest daughter, is wed, his younger daughter, Bianca, an object of sexual desire among all the men, is off limits. So several of Bianca’s suitors, including Gremio (Judy Gold), Lucentio (Rosa Gilmore), and Hortensio (Donna Lynne Champlin), get involved in an elaborate scheme of lies, deception, and mistaken identity to convince Petruchio (Janet McTeer) to wed and bed the untamable Katherina so Bianca becomes fair game. But Kate is not about to fall for their tricks, until she has little choice, resulting in some very difficult scenes as Petruchio essentially starves and tortures Kate to force her to become his obedient sex slave. But Lloyd has a surprise in store that provides a conclusion that might not sit well with either Shakespeare or Trump.
The cast, which also features Adrienne C. Moore as Tranio, Teresa Avia Lim as Biondello, Stacey Sergeant as Grumio, Candy Buckley as Vincentio, Leenya Rideout as a wealthy widow, and Morgan Everitt, Anne L. Nathan, Pearl Rhein, Jackie Sanders, and Natalie Woolams-Torres, has an absolute ball, seemingly enjoying every second of the show. Jumbo (Josephine and I, The River) stomps and shrieks around with fiery glee as Kate, while Tony-winning, Oscar-nominated British actress McTeer (God of Carnage, Tumbleweeds) channels a dirtbag Crocodile Dundee as Petruchio. Gold (The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother) stands tall as Gremio, replacing what she calls a boring speech with a brief stand-up routine that, the night we attended, referenced a raccoon that was sneaking around backstage. And Moore (Black Cindy on Orange Is the New Black) is delightful as Tranio, firmly entrenched right in the middle of all the shenanigans. Lloyd infuses the festivities — which actually do nearly fall apart during the wedding scenes and when Petruchio is “taming” Kate — with a feminist energy that nearly explodes to songs by Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. Of course, this production of an outdated, sexist play — which inspired the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate — comes along at an opportune moment in American history, as Hillary Clinton has a legitimate chance to become the first woman U.S. president, violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community remain prevalent, and even discussions over bathroom usage have resulted in fear and loathing. In the program, Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis notes that Shrew “is the only major Shakespeare play which I have never produced or directed. . . . The reason is simple: I have never been able to get behind the central action of the play, which is, well, taming a woman. . . . But then I listened to Phyllida Lloyd.” We are all very glad that he did.