Wild women need to be tamed by their husbands. Whether or not Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew as a prescription, his comedy holds this misogynistic thesis as proven fact. In the 21st century, though, the play can be taken only as farce, which is precisely how Portland Shakespeare Project treats it. As if the cast’s well-timed winks and intentional overplaying weren’t enough, sarcasm drips from every line: It’s feminist comedy at its most hilarious.
Katherina (Maureen Porter) is the eponymous shrew, the shrieking, icy elder sister of Bianca (Foss Curtis), who has two suitors but cannot marry until Katherina has found a husband. In a garish banded hat, gleaming suit and thin tie, Lucentio (Peter Platt) enters and instantly falls for Bianca, deciding to pose as her Latin tutor. Another of Bianca’s suitors, Hortensio (an unmistakably Belushi-like Sam Dinkowitz), has decided to don a beret to call himself a music tutor. Brash Petruchio (James Farmer) chooses to marry Katherina for her dowry before he’s even met her, determined to domesticate her first by praising each of her evil qualities and then through outright torture.
But director Michael Mendelson hasn’t forgotten this is a comedy—quite the opposite. Taming is actually an extended frame tale, with a poor, drunken man being tricked into believing he’s a lord. This is how the production opens, with Matthew Kerrigan in drag as the new lord’s wife, making flamboyant remarks as he takes iPhone photos of the passed-out peasant and intermittently implores his play-husband to “shutteth the hell up.” Offered a plate of food by servants, he waves a hand in the air, exclaiming, “Carbs!” Once his character arrives, Dinkowitz continues the uncouth comic relief. Part Italian slimeball and part prodigal frat boy, Dinkowitz won’t say Bianca’s name unless it’s sung as if in a pop song. While disguised as the music instructor, his affected lisp alone could carry a standup routine.
The supporting cast steals many moments, but it’s the polished performances and feminist touches of the leads, especially Porter, that give Taming its political depth and make it such a successful production. Letting all the venom drain out of her voice, Porter intones with a narrow brow, “I’m ashamed that women are so simple.”
SEE IT: Alder Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 7:30 pm Wednesday, July 17, 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays through Aug. 4. $30, students $20.