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Even when you’re blissing out at Shakespeare in the Park — the moon shining, the cast infectiously joyful — it’s still hard to ignore the fact that The Taming of the Shrew is pretty vile. It’s a Punch and Judy abuse comedy, but Bardophiles excuse it for its poetry; romance-minded productions try to make the central pair into a love-match. So the radical decision in Phyllida Lloyd’s carnivalesque version isn’t the (stellar) all-woman cast. No — it’s that these women actually play Shakespeare’s violence without apology. There’s fun to be had at Shrew, but maybe this is the final word on the play: Men should henceforth be too ashamed to do it.
Lest you think our politics have evolved, Lloyd frames the thing as a Miss Italy pageant, complete with imperious Trumpian voiceovers. Cush Jumbo’s Katherina competes with sister Bianca (Gayle Rankin) at the urging of father Baptista (LaTanya Richardson Jackson); slobbering men (including suitors Judy Gold and Donna Lynne Champlin) grunt and clap. Janet McTeer’s Petruchio breaks Katherina to marriage while swaggering like Mick Jagger — she’s so masculine, she’s feminine again — giving a performance worth standing in line for. Indeed, the deep bench of women performing next to her (particularly Jackson, Champlin, and Adrienne C. Moore as a servant-in-disguise) are Lloyd’s real rebuke to the patriarchy. Why do we do Shakespeare any other way? We don’t seem to be missing anything of value.
Shakespeare in the Park: The Taming of the Shrew
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Central Park at 81st Street
Through June 26