After a three-year absence, the world's foremost Shakespearean troupe returns to San Francisco this week with The Taming of the Shrew. The Royal Shakespeare Company, founded in the Bard's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, opened the show in England last October before taking the production worldwide. San Francisco marks the only North American stop for Shrew, which is also visiting Spain, Turkey, Korea, and Taiwan on its international circuit.
Shrew, for those who missed the 1967 hit film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, spotlights the brusque, sharp-tongued Kate and the devious, fortune-seeking Petruchio, who marries her against her will, then seeks to break her resistance through psychological warfare. The results are both hilarious and disturbing. As usual, Shakespeare leaves his work open to various and competing interpretations, so that it's not easily pigeonholed as either slapstick or a glorification of male chauvinism.
The play opens with an induction scene -- frequently cut by directors -- in which an intoxicated street person, Christopher Sly, is dressed up in fine clothes while unconscious and tricked into believing he is a wealthy lord suffering from amnesia. As he lies back in luxury, the play is presented for his entertainment. This production recasts Sly as a modern-day web surfer, who discovers the play on the Internet.
The Royal Shakespeare Company established the careers of such actors as Ian Richardson, Judi Dench, and Glenda Jackson. Monica Dolan, in the role of Kate, is a veteran of numerous RSC productions, while Stuart McQuarrie makes his RSC debut in the duel roles of Petruchio and Christopher Sly. Today the company has five home theaters in Stratford and London, and takes many productions on tour.