The Taming of the Shrew

Fight fire with fire. If that isn't Petruchio's motto, it might as well be, for it is one of his most basic approaches in performing the title task in this Shakespearean comedy. Confronted with a woman of blistering temper, whose tongue scorches all those who cross her (and some who don't), this wily rogue turns up his own internal heat and roars right back at her, giving her a taste of her own flames. That isn't Petruchio's only approach in "taming" Kate; he also slathers her with compliments, praising her for qualities that she does not possess, in effect, painting a portrait of the woman she could be should she even her disposition. However, in this revival by the Boxtree Players, one might be forgiven for missing that. This is a show of fire and fireworks, and the blazes and blasts just about overshadow every other aspect. Anne Engelking's Kate is indeed a figure of comically fearsome temper, with a glare that could wither a man at 40 paces and a good right arm to finish whatever part of the job her gaze doesn't. Jon Watson's Petruchio is a master of the scam with a touch of the ham in him. He can't resist making a show, doing things up with a little extra emotion, and when it comes to out-blazing a shrew, he stomps, shouts, and shoots fire like a combat-strength flame-thrower. While these two aren't always in a rage and neither are the other actors, the general demeanor here is wild and woolly, knockabout and boisterous, with lots of broad takes, exaggerated delivery, and physical shtick, so that it's almost like watching a bottle rocket stand go up -- ka-boom, ka-boom, ka-boom -- for three hours. That or a very long Warner Bros. cartoon.

Director Gavin Mundy seems to be hitting on Shrew's theme of the power of play, how we can come to self-knowledge through being -- playing -- someone else. The work is staged with the original prologue (and an added epilogue) in which a drunkard is convinced he is a lord, and when Kate does at last make a change in her behavior, it appears she is doing so because she's learned how to be playful. The way Engelking's face lights up as she teases another character says it all: This is fun.

That may be the operative idea for all these players: to have a rousing good time whatever they're doing. So they roll their eyes, they wink, they clobber each other. The enthusiasm is commendable, and it does have its pay-offs; sometimes we have as much fun as the actors. At other times, though, the fires get a little out of control and our ears end up singed. The ArtSpace is a much more intimate theatre than the barn at Winedale (in which most of the players earned their stripes) and a little shouting and clomping goes a long way. And while this is one of Shakespeare's works that lends itself to broadness, the sustained level of foolery in this production can be a bit wearing over time. The Boxtree gang generates a fair amount of heat and light, but it's always tricky playing with fire. (Robert Faires) FINAL WEEKEND! Through Nov 18, Thu-Sat, 8pm, at ArtSpace, 403 Baylor. Tickets: $5. Running time: 2 hrs, 50 min.

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