As her contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare project, Tyler (A Spool of Blue Thread, 2015, etc.) takes on the thankless task of modernizing The Taming of the Shrew.
You don’t have to think Shrew is irredeemably sexist—Shakespeare’s take on gender roles is always more nuanced than it seems—to quickly tire of its knockabout humor. But once you get rid of Kate’s storming and Petruchio’s boorishness, what’s left? In Tyler’s version, a sharp-tongued preschool assistant, Kate Battista, whose scientist father is convinced his dead-end research will soon break through—if only he can hang onto his lab assistant, Pyotr Shcherbakov, whose O-1 visa is about to expire. That’s right, Dr. Battista wants Kate to marry Pytor to keep him in the country: after all, he points out, she doesn’t exactly have men flocking after her like her airhead sister Bunny, and she’s still in high school. Kate is hurt by her father’s thoughtless cruelty, and already these characters have more depth than Shakespeare allows his broadly drawn protagonists. What they don’t have is much energy; Pyotr in particular moves tentatively through the story, never quite sure (as he tells Kate in a rather touching scene) that he's correctly reading the cultural cues in this strange country. The real drama is between Kate and her widowed father, who depends on her without really valuing her; even self-absorbed Bunny turns out to have more appreciation for her sister than the selfish Dr. Battista. That’s sort of the point, we see, in Tyler’s version of Kate’s submission speech from Shrew, transformed here into a lecture on how pathetic men are. Tyler can’t help but invest this mishmash with a good deal of her own rueful humor and tart compassion for her bewildered characters, but her special qualities as a writer don’t make a very good fit with the original.
Neither a faithful retelling nor a trenchant countertale, though agreeable enough as an afternoon’s entertainment.