THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, First Folio Shakespeare Festival, at the Peabody Estate at Mayslake. Alison C. Vesely's staging is as sensitive and focused as this difficult play deserves, overcoming the supposed sexism of Shakespeare's comedy by establishing from the start the leveling passion between shrewish Kate and piggish Petruchio. Independent to a fault and desperate to find a mate worthy of her, Kathy Santen's spitfire Kate only wants the right excuse to surrender to Sean Grennan's equally ferocious, more caring than cruel Petruchio. (Real-life partners, the actors make the timing of their fights and the feeling behind of their embraces utterly convincing.)
The one drawback to Kate's early capitulation is that Petruchio's machinations seem redundant, mere conditioning to ensure his total success; of that triumph there's no doubt given the sincerity of Santen's final praise of wifely obedience. It's equally clear in this production that the prerequisite for that submission is unconditional love, Kate and Petruchio's great common ground.
First Folio's often hilarious high jinks splendidly suit the play's high spirits without undermining the surprisingly romantic courtship; no acting opportunity is lost. Niki Sarich is simperingly silly as Bianca, a very strategic crybaby; Christian Gray smoothly resourceful as her Lucentio; and Sean Fortunato wonderfully wily as the impostor Tranio. Everyone looks period perfect in Kim Fencl-Rak's sumptuous 16th-century costumes, and Christopher Jensen's elegant Renaissance piazza nicely warms up the fun.