“The Taming of the Shrew”

Play: “The Taming of the Shrew”

Group: St. Louis Shakespeare

Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square

Dates: July 22, 23, 24, 25

Tickets: From $15 to $25; contact 314-361-5664 or www.stlshakespeare.org

Story: Baptista, a merchant of Padua, has two daughters. Both are beautiful, but the eldest, Katherina (Kate) is headstrong and intimidating, and the younger (Bianca) can’t be married until Kate has been hitched. While Bianca is being pursued by two suitors (the elderly Gremio and the thick-witted Hortensio), neither of whom she prefers, she catches the eye of a third gentleman, Lucentio.

As Lucentio and Hortensio subsequently masquerade in their attempts to woo Bianca with the help of their servants, Hortensio’s friend Petruchio arrives from Verona determined to marry a wealthy woman. At Hortensio’s urging, he pursues the feisty, strong-willed Kate, vowing to “tame the shrew” in order to claim her and her riches by concocting a plan to break down her resolve.

Highlights: Director Todd Pieper accentuates the comic elements of one of Shakespeare’s most controversial works, utilizing a playful, colorful set designed by Christie Johnston that masterfully accents the cartoonish elements of the production. That’s significant, because the misogynistic aspects of “Shrew” make it a curious choice at best for performances in the 21st century, not to mention the centuries since its late 16th century inception.

Pieper benefits as well by a spirited and inspired performance by Suki Peters, who embodies the spunk and spark of Kate and emphasizes her independence and fiery temperament rather than portray mean-spirited harridan.

Other Info: That said, the production as a whole is unsuccessful in convincing a modern audience that male domination is the way to go in a domestic relationship, no matter how carefully crafted the production package may be. Pieper fails to uncover enough wit and satire in the Bard’s questionable comedy to make this a compelling or satisfying rendition, underscoring once again the highly problematic aspects of the script.

Andrew Keller captures the vapid qualities of the gold-digging Petruchio but fails to generate any empathy for his character’s baser instincts, seemingly unable to sift many appealing nuggets of cleverness from the script, even as comedy. It’s a difficult assignment for even the most seasoned performer and beyond Keller’s grasp in this presentation.

There’s fine, amusing work by Brian Kappler, Rahmases Galvan and Josh Cook, who romp through the broad comedy of the servants Tranio, Biandello and Grumio, respectively. Katie Puglisi does well in the secondary role of the quieter if also determined Bianca, and plays well off Bianca’s suitors. Aaron Dodd and Ben Ritchie do good work as the masquerading Lucentio (as an earnest math teacher) and Hortensio (as a thickly bespectacled music tutor), while Jason Puff effectively plays the part of the pompous Gremio.

Alfred Erickson captures the exasperated aspects of Baptista, while Paul Devine and Nathan Schroeder capably fill the parts of Lucentio’s father Vincentio and a pedant paid to impersonate him. Serena McCarthy, Greg Fenner, Drew Pannebaker and Robert Strasser play members of the “zanni” or ensemble, although Pieper’s device of having them seated on stage for virtually the entire play is of dubious value.

Alexandra Scibetta Quigley’s costumes are festive and appealing and highlighted by the garish garb adorning Petruchio on his wedding day. The suitable lights, properties and impish sound design are provided by Jonathan Lebovic, Andria Mantle and Jeff Roberts, respectively.

It’ll be interesting to see how Shakespeare Festival St. Louis fares next summer with its impending presentation of “Shrew.” For this St. Louis Shakespeare presentation, it’s best to concentrate on some splendid individual performances rather than the problematic production as a whole.

Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.