Theater Review (NYC): Harlem Summer Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ By Jon Sobel | Friday, July 19, 2013
Shakespeare, outdoors, by the banks of a great urban river? No need to go back to the turn-of-the-17th-century Thames for this treat. And, for New Yorkers seeking Shakespeare in a park, no need to wait on line all day in Central Park only to be disappointed there are no more tickets. Pulse Ensemble Theatre’s Taming of the Shrew, directed by company founder Alexa Kelly, dances and clowns across the amphitheater stage at Riverbank State Park through August 4.
Though re-set in the Caribbean rather than Italy, what may be Shakespeare’s most culturally outdated play (message: wives should defer to their husbands absolutely) remains one of his most fun, especially when performed with this production’s high spirits and quick wit.
The Taming of the Shrew may well be the very first play Shakespeare’s wrote (at least without any collaborators), … True to the spirit of this comical setup, Shrew proves a mighty lark replete with absurd connivings, silly disguises, and prominent clowning.
Baptista, a rich gentleman in the original but in this version a mother played with smooth, smiling gravitas by Marcia Berry, has two daughters. No one wants to woo Kate, the insufferably sharp-tongued elder (the excellent Yvette King), but Baptista is keeping her sweet younger daughter Bianca off-limits to her multiple suitors until a mate is found for Kate. Enter Petruchio, who, to everyone’s delight except Kate’s, will dare to court her.
Michael Gilpin gives that brave soul some oddball phrasing but a cockeyed, comic swagger that feeds the clownish energy of the whole production. In full clowning mode is the hilarious (and acrobatic) Jonathan Dyrud, who, while playing a mere Attendant, gives a performance that becomes the apex of the whole celebratory structure Kelly has built around the text. It’s an exciting, full-throttle staging…. Kelly and her creative team make the very most of the comic situations. I didn’t remember that there even were so many comic situations in this play. I’m happy to consider myself re-enlightened. … the production held the attention of the kids in the audience the night I attended, at least for most of its modest two-hour length, and that’s an accomplishment with a generation growing up accustomed to flitting from one quick Internet video to another. Though full of dancing and hijinks, it isn’t so much tailored for a young audience as committed to the antic spirit that infused Elizabethan comedies when they played by the Thames all those years ago.
This summer, by the Hudson, you can experience something of that spirit without having to wait in any lines. And it’s free. Visit the Pulse Theatre Ensemble’s website for more info. To get there, just take the #1 train to 145th St. and walk west (down the hill) straight into Riverbank State Park.
Recommendation: bring a small cushion to sit on (amphitheater seating is hard on the bum) and bug spray.
Tranio (as Lucentio), Baptista and Gremio
Petruchio brings his bride home
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Previews Monday July 2-July 5th (no show July 4th).
Opens July 6th and plays Wednesday – Sunday until July 22nd. 8 PM. FREE
Directed by Alexa Kelly
Lighting design – Steve O’Shea
Costume design – Bob Miller
Sound design – Brian Richardson
The Harlem Summer Shakespeare brings Shakespeare into today’s world. Using the news topics of today our A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM presents Oberon and Titania as a couple of feuding male creatures, and Thesius and Oberon are two corporate and powerful women; Thesius has forcefully taken over Hippoyta’s corporation, but Hippoyta has grown to love Thesius, and they are preparing for a wedding. Puck has worked with Oberon since she was a young girl, and is still his executive assistant and most trusted messenger. The mechanicals want “Jobs not Cuts” and so, using Shakespeare’s language unchanged, the fun begins!
Featuring: Kelsey Arendt as Thesius, Jacklyn Collier* as Helena, Mariah Franklin as Peaseblossom, Nikki Ferry* as Hippolyta, Kerianne Ferguson as Honeysuckle, Sharone Halevy* as Hermia, Geoffrey Hillback* as Demetrius, Greg Nussen as Flute, Elliott Mayer* as Egeus/Quince, Nneoma Nkuku* as Snug/Philostrate, John Payne* as Snout, Brian Richardson* as Bottom, Karim Sekou as Titania, Blaine Smith* as Lysander, Thia Stephan* as Puck, and Steven J. West as Oberon
“> Titania is in love with Bottom
After the wedding ceremonies
Titania with his fairies
The lovers fighting
“This show is a lot of fun”–Backstage.com
The HARLEM SUMMER SHAKESPEARE is made possible by the generous support of
NYSCA, NYC Councilman Robert Jackson, DCA and Materials for the Arts,
Riverbank State Park, and our generous supporters.
We thank you!