Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” seems like an odd addition to the lineup for Charm City Fringe Fest. Fringe art is typically new and experimental. Five minutes in, it becomes clear why the Bard’s rom-com makes for great fringe. In a swirl of silly antics, The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory doesn’t present the play we’re used to. The company begins the show by inviting the audience to throw tomatoes (they’re foam) at them when they call “line”; which they might do because they only had five days to rehearse. Women play men, men play women, and one actor plays both fool and nobleman. The set is minimal and so are the props. During intermission, the cast incites a sing-a-long to “A Thousand Miles.” Through all of this, they are evoking The Globe.
“Taming” is a fun show that taps into a feminist conversation. It’s the story of charming and wealthy Bianca—in this case, played by Tegan Williams—who has many suitors and one major problem: She can’t marry unless her crude older sister, Kate, does. Cue the gold-digging Petruchio, played by Ian Blackwell Rogers, who takes it upon himself to tame Kate and present her as a proper wife. Without the pronounced element of humor inherent in the dialogue—something BSF emphasizes marvelously through over-the-top gender-swapping and fourth-wall- shattering—this play could be really upsetting.
After each show, the cast drops their accents and returns to the stage for a talk-back. During the talk-back I witnessed, Kathryn Zoerb, who plays our Kate, reminds us that simply presenting Kate’s situation from her perspective was a bold move for Shakespeare’s day.
Zoerb makes the choice as an actress to submit by the show’s end. But bear in mind: “One night you try something with your character and it could not work, so you do something totally different the next night,” Jessica Byars, who plays a gut-busting Christopher Sly, explains.
In our day, whether Kate feels like giving in to Petruchio or not, is her right as a woman. And this weekend it’s your right to throw tomatoes at her.
The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s “The Taming of the Shrew” runs through Nov. 22.