"The Taming of the Shrew" is such an unruly romantic comedy that there are advantages to staging it outdoors, where the running argument between a man and woman leads to some actual running.
Although the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory production literally running in the meadow of Evergreen Museum & Library is more notable for its enthusiasm than its accomplishment, that kind of silliness is agreeable on a summer evening.
It's also nice that the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is helping to fill the void left by the defunct Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, which also staged its shows outdoors at Evergreen in north Baltimore and indoors at St. Mary's Outreach Center in Hampden. These young, er, Factory workers, who earlier this summer staged "Love's Labour's Lost," are having such a great time that it does put you in a good mood.
The festive spirit also may be the best way to approach one of the Bard's bawdiest and, by today's standards, most politically incorrect comedies. "The Taming of the Shew" has a romantically combative plot about a vain young man, Petruchio, who schemes to win over a headstrong young woman, Kate, who is not shy about slinging insults.
Most people today probably would admire Kate as an independent-minded woman who speaks her mind, but in Shakespeare's day she would have been considered a shrewish woman who needs to be brought in line.
Shakespeare's dialogue obviously dictates that Kate must be tamed, but he does give her enough zingers to make her a formidable debating partner. Also, Petruchio's gruff behavior makes him seem like a bit of a beast, whereas Kate's quick-witted insults and agile movement make her seem as endearing as she is fierce.
The complication-laden plot involves its share of disguised characters and, for that matter, disguised motives. One of the chief obstacles is that Kate's father, Baptista, announces that he will not allow his friendly younger daughter, Bianca, to be married until his sharp-witted elder daughter, Kate, has a husband.
Shakespeare's development of these complications is brusque and awkward relative to how masterfully he handles such elements in his greatest comedies, but what "The Taming of the Shrew" lacks in sophistication it generally gains in blustery fun.
That sort of comic directness permeates the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory production directed by Kelly Dowling. The extroverted performances by Chris Cotterman as Petruchio and Ann Turiano as Kate make them well-matched as romantic sparring partners; and while some of the supporting actors are better with the physical comedy than with delivery of their lines, there are bright performances including Jess Behar's charismatic portrayal of a servant named Tranio.
The minimally staged production barely manages to give a sense of the Elizabethan setting, but, as the cast members assert in remarks made to the audience prior to the play, this is going to be a no-frills staging.
Incorporated into pre-show entertainment that also includes company members singing contemporary songs such as "Stand By Your Man," these comments zestfully alert you to expect additional contemporary references during the show. It's not unusual for modern stagings of Shakespeare to incorporate pop-cultural references from our own era; at their best, such additions underscore the eternal relevance of Shakespeare's dialogue.
This production pushes so far with its contemporary musical arrangements and sketch comedy routines, however, that they threaten to upstage Shakespeare's already-boisterous script. The balance tips in such a way that the play itself seems tamed and made subservient to a wild lawn party.
And it's not always easy to enjoy this party on its own terms. The complete absence of amplification does not hinder some of the actors, whose voices easily carry across the lawn, but other actors do not project their voices very well and are outperformed by crickets and airplanes.
"The Taming of the Shrew" has its remaining performances at three locations in north Baltimore: Aug. 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 12 and 19 at 2 p.m. at Evergreen Museum & Library, 4545 N. Charles St.; Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Mary's Outreach Center, 3900 Roland Ave; and Aug. 26 at 2 p.m. in Wyman Park, Tudor Arms Ave. and 37th St. Tickets are $15- 20; free for students in grade 5 and lower. Call 410-596-5036 or go to http://www.theshakespearefactory.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun