Left to right: Lucentio played by Tara Bouldrey, Bianca played by Marie Weigle, Hortensio played by Margaret Garofalo, and Gremio played by Emily Demko  Photo from Arc Theater  

This year’s Shakespeare on the Ridge offering turns to a play that has troubled many for literally centuries – “The Taming of the Shrew.” In the hands of a theater group as bold and willing to take chances as the Arc Theater, the production, edited and cut to fit within about 80 minutes and nine characters, highlights the farce and turns some of the controversial nature of the play on its head by using an all-female cast.

 The play has long troubled viewers because of the way men treat women, beginning with father Baptista’s treatment of his own daughters Katherine and Bianca and then the bizarre, often cruel way Petruchio woos and ultimately wins Katherine. Arc’s production forces another look at the relationships and dialogue, texts, converting several characters to women and beginning and ending the play by making it obvious to the audience all of the players are indeed women.

 At times the choices are inspired. Converting Grumio to Grumia and combining the character with the role in the play called simply “Widow” works exceedingly well. Megan DeLay’s Grumia, doe-eyed but at times tough, centered but goofy, shows why such inspired choices work in the hands of this company.

 Stepping off the stage for the first time in Arc’s eight year run at Ridgeville, Teddy Boone co-directs, along with Arc company member and frequent actress in her own right Natalie Sallee. The show is offered in the round with audience members on all four sides, and their direction – spinning around the concrete stage  — involves the audience sometimes directly.

 Back to the farce. Physical humor is a big part of the production, with characters literally tangling with each other at times. It works. The play is and always was supposed to be funny.

 Bridget Schreiber is excellent as Kate the Shrew. You can feel her frustration having to live under and among the oppressive Baptista, the shrill and empty Bianca, and the simplistic and greedy men who chase Bianca. When she meets the outrageous and inspired craziness of Petruchio, she rises to the different challenge he presents with passion, anger and hurt. You believe she’s just not used to such a character, and the frustration evolves into real intrigue before the audience’s eyes.

 Emily Green’s Petruchio, channeling her best Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Wlaking Dead’s Negan) with her leaning, knee-bending deliveries, brings the right amount of sheer madcap crazy to the role. Her Petruchio is more wildly goofy than cruel, more eccentric than mean, and far, far more interesting than the suitors chasing twittering Bianca.

 Of those suitors, Margaret Garofalo’s Hortensio is particularly hilarious. Disguised – by silly moustache alone and sporting a lute and bad Italian accent, steals the show at times. This character is made for Delay’s Grumia, and the audience easily buys their match in the end.

 Jettisoning the confusing play-within-a-play structure of the text makes sense – Arc believes in combining characters rather than having actors play multiple roles, and always has. The Christopher Slay introduction in the original text, while amusing, does not fit within Arc’s vision.

 The Taming of the Shrew is among Arc’s best productions – and that’s a high bar. It is not to be missed. Identity politics are placed front and center and in your face by the decision to cast all women, allowing a different look at the relationship between Petruchio and Kate. In the hands of a skilled company and excellent actors, we see that the two of them are actually meant for each other – both lunatic enough to actually fall in love.

 The production runs through August 12 at Ridgeville Park behind the park house, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. Amazingly, all productions are completely free.