Richard Hamburger

Keeping it wacky
DTC’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ is playful, tremendously entertaining

By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News

Did Shakespeare write a show called Kiss Me Clown?

For his last production as artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, Richard Hamburger chose that problematical comedy The Taming of the Shrew. As Tuesday’s opening performance proved, Mr. Hamburger leaves the Theater Center as he has reigned there.

The Taming of the Shrew bristles with eye-popping visual ideas and inventive physical humor. Roguish set designer David Zinn gives us a contemporary Italy out of a fun-house Fellini, and the light fixtures are such an integral part of the business you don’t know whether to credit him or lighting designer David Weiner. Clint Ramos’ costumes are outrageously stylish, too. We can only hope that the tradition of superior design outlasts Mr. Hamburger at the Theater Center.

Much of what happens in this wacky playground is tremendously entertaining. This Taming of the Shrew is really a family drama. Bianca, the demure younger daughter of the wealthy Baptista Minola, can’t get married until her harshly outspoken older sister Kate finds a husband. The suitors who want to get at Bianca contrive to have the brash, wild Petruchio whisk Kate away.

The problem for modern audiences, of course, is that Petruchio “tames” Kate by refusing her food and sleep and insisting she agree with everything he says, however nonsensical. In the newspapers, they call that brainwashing. Directors have to decide either to try to make this palatable somehow or subvert the play completely.

Mr. Hamburger has found an atypical solution. Mary Bacon plays Kate as a cross between a Medusa-headed monster and a jack-in-the-box-style jester. She makes faces and sticks her tongue out at all and sundry. In her first meeting with Jonno Roberts as Petruchio, they both rattle off their lines like a pair of AK-47s. We don’t get a real glimpse of the inner workings of Kate’s presumably independent mind until near the end of the play – which means we don’t identify enough to feel outraged when she’s mistreated. Problem averted, but that does leave a big hole in the story.

In compensation, Mr. Roberts shows us a Petruchio who thinks as fast as he talks. This virile madcap really is like the mighty wind he talks about, which blows so hard it puts the fire right out. The Bard didn’t stud this play with much memorable poetry, but most of that falls to Mr. Roberts and he speaks it for all it is worth.

The subplot is well served by Jessica D. Turner’s tasty Bianca and Noel Velez’s ardent, wide-eyed Lucentio. The best comic cameo comes from John Woodson’s oily Gremio, the elderly rich guy who basically wants to buy Bianca. Jakie Cabe and Chamblee Ferguson offer interesting takes on Grumio and Hertension, but Bryant Mason and Marcus Neely are oddly bland as Lucentio’s comic servants.

Throughout his time at the Theater Center, Mr. Hamburger’s productions often had compelling concepts and vivid details that made up for some odd performances in major roles. This one stays with the formula.

© Richard Hamburger, Theater Director      Site design and maintenance by Amy Lacy.