Presumption of funniness is not exactly a capital offense. But it’s a performer’s crime nevertheless, a rookie sort of miscue that helps to sink Folger Theatre’s ill-conceived spaghetti-western version of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
No one could possibly be more impressed with the antics of director Aaron Posner’s yuk-yuk production than several of the actors themselves. I stopped counting the times they shot the audience winking looks, as if to say, “Wasn’t that a good one?” or “Darned if I get the point of that line!”
Sometimes — and especially in sub-par Shakespeare — an idea takes hold in the rehearsal room that every character, no matter how tangential, is a riot. You can see this error put to practice in Posner’s OK Corral-inspired production, as various actors struggle, to lethally hammy effect, to turn inconsequential ripostes into upstaging bits of extraneous business.
No one is guiltier of attitudinal excess than Danny Scheie, in the heretofore secondary role of Grumio, servant to Petruchio, the brutal wooer of hellcat Katherine. Although the list of characters in the original text lumps Grumio with seven others as Petruchio’s manservants, Folger embellishes the description, identifying him as Petruchio’s “trusty, flamboyant servant.” Thanks — we wouldn’t have known. Employing a voice like the eardrum-splitting wheeze of a strangled cat, and a sibilant “s” that puts you in mind of Carmen Ghia in “The Producers,” Scheie has decided, with Posner’s blessing, that the real shrew is Grumio.