THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare comedy, directed by A. J. Antoon. Starring Morgan Freeman and Tracey Ullman. At the Delacorte Theater.
Padua turns up somewhere deep in the heart of the southwestern USA in director A. J. Antoon's version of ``The Taming of the Shrew.'' (Back in 1954 at Ontario's Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the great Tyrone Guthrie played with a similar notion, locating the comedy in turn-of-the-century western Canada.) In the case of the summer frolic at the Delacorte, Mr. Antoon has chosen the late 1800s as the time for Shakespeare's mock admonitory tale of shrew taming, fortune hunting, and masquerade.
Tracey Ullman's Katherina explodes onto the scene as a pistol-packin' terror. She not only taunts younger sister Bianca (Helen Hunt) about her suitors; nasty Kate also uses the yellow balloons with which she has festooned Bianca as targets for practice with her trusty six-shooter.
Although these Paduans talk in twangy Southwestern drawl and employ latter-day anachronisms, the shrew is still tamed in Shakespearean terms. Baptista Minola (George Guidall) has vowed not to give Bianca in marriage until he has disposed of terrible-tempered Kate. Enter Petruchio (Morgan Freeman), who has ``come to wive it wealthily in Padua'' and is challenged rather than dismayed at the prospect of wooing Kate.
The tumult of plots and cross-plots unfolds more or less nonstop amid the wide spaces of a John Lee Beatty setting, whose backdrop of wild horses and buttes suggests a Remington painting. The set provides multiple doors for quick entrances and exits, plus movable set pieces to suggest interiors - as well as trap doors, stairways, balconies, and a water trough for dunking. The Delacorte revival has them all.
Mr. Freeman, noted most recently for his Oscar-nominated performance in ``Driving Miss Daisy,'' is an engagingly witty, audacious, and masterful Petruchio. This excellent actor responds both to the panache of the role and to the psychological undercurrents of Petruchio's campaign of mock kindness. As the implacable Kate, Miss Ullman, a TV star familiar from ``The Tracey Ullman Show,'' rasps, barks, screeches, and spits her way through a performance that seems more relentlessly one-note than is absolutely necessary.