THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Austin Gardens. This is not an easy play to like. Even if you overlook its patriarchal "spare the rod and spoil the wife" philosophy, there are all kinds of other speed bumps--broad physical humor, cartoonish characters, a long, tiresome monologue at the end.
By transposing the play from Renaissance Verona to an Italian neighborhood in 1950s America, director Dale Calandra has managed to sweeten this sour comedy some. The new setting gives him a whole bunch of comical Italian-American cliches to play with: loud family banter, garish clothing, enough food to feed an army. It also gives John Kamys, who coordinated the music, a jukeboxful of noisy, schmaltzy Italian-American tunes ("That's Amore," among others) to raise our spirits between the Bard's sometimes dispiriting scenes.
Calandra's cast seems to be having a ball. Susan Hart as Kate and Ned Mochel as Petruchio play what could have been a mere Punch-and-Judy show with remarkable restraint and dignity. By the end of the play, it's clear that both are shrews of a sort and that each has tamed the other. But despite all Calandra's creativity, the play still feels a good half hour too long, thanks in large part to the aforementioned soporific, sanctimonious "obey your husband" concluding speech.