Shrewd “Taming of the Shrew” at Chicago Shakespeare

If you were labeled a “shrew” by your friends and family, how would you act?

And would love allow you to show your true self? These questions are central to the spirited adaptation of “Short Shakespeare! The Taming of the Shrew” that just opened at Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

The play is produced for audiences ages 10 and up, and I brought my 13-year-old daughter—the perfect test market. And here’s the amazing thing about Shakespeare performed live: No matter how difficult the text, once the actors are on stage bringing the story to life, the plot and language are easy to follow and embrace.

In “The Taming of the Shrew,” Katherina is the strong-willed and kind of nasty first-born who must be married before her sweet sister, Bianca, can find her husband. Hijinks of course ensue with characters trading places, sight gags, a man in drag and many double entendres. The audience laughed throughout the play, and the 75-minute production moved quickly to a satisfying conclusion.

Some versions of “Shrew” play Katherina’s transformation as ironic and sarcastic. It’s a more feminist reading of the text. But director Rachel Rockwell instead focused on the love story. Petruchio—although motivated by the need for a wealthy wife—clearly falls in love with witty, funny Kate, played by the gorgeous Ericka Ratcliff. (I loved her in “Funk It Up About Nothin’. ”)

Also of note were performances by Matt Mueller, whose Petruchio has energy and passion to match Kate’s fire. And the hysterical Matthew Sherbach as Hortensio all but steals the show.

This play is funny enough to engage middle school students, but has a sophisticated wit that high school and older kids will love. If your child thinks Shakespeare is “boring,” take him or her to see “Shrew.” Bonus: You’ll have a lot to discuss on the ride home. Why was marriage so important? Were women really obedient? And what’s changed in 400 years? (Less than you’d think.)

“The Taming of the Shrew” runs Saturday mornings at 11 a.m., through April 7 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave. For tickets, call the box office at 312-595-5600 or visit the theater’s website at chicagoshakes.com/.

Photo Caption: Petruchio (Matt Mueller) attempts to woo the reluctant Katharina (Ericka Ratcliff). Photo by Liz Lauren.