TAMING OF THE SHREW at Calshakes a raucous romp

Erica Sullivan is Katherine and Slate Holmgren is Petruchio in Shana Cooper ’s production of The Taming of the Shrew; photo by Kevin Berne.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. : Comedy. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Shana Cooper. California Shakespeare Theater, Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda. 510-548-9666 or www.calshakes.org.

September 21- October 16, 2011

TAMING OF THE SHREW a raucous romp.

In our generation of political and social correctness there are two Shakespearean plays that require deft handling since one includes antisemitism (Merchant of Venice) and the other misogynistic chauvinism (Taming of the Shrew). For their final show of the 2011 season, California Shakespeare Theatre (CalShakes) has accepted the challenge and won the day with their staging of Shrew that is political/socially correct, absolutely hysterical and somewhat true to Shakespeare.

To start they hired director Shana Cooper, whose staging of Love Labor Lost at this year’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival was a smash hit. Then they rounded up three of their top-notch associate artists and mingled them with competent/superb regional and national actors to fill out the roster, gave fight director Dave Maier free reign and allowed costume designer Katherine O’Neill go wild.

The associate artists are (alphabetically) Dan Hiatt, Joan Mankin and Danny Scheie. They as well as the ensemble cast have to do double duty and at times you may wonder who is who but it makes no difference. Slate Holgren’s virile/athletic/raunchy Petruchio meets his match in physicality and acting ability with Erica Sullivan as “Katherine the curst.” Statuesque Alexandra Henrikson’s Bianca, in purple stiletto shoes gives the proper impression of the empty-headed object of her suitors. Dan Clegg, Rod Gnapp, Nicholas Pelczar and Liam Vincent round out the cast. The tone of the evening is set and the fun begins with entire cast doing a disco dance at a beauty contest with Bianca as the winner.

All actors were well advised to heed the advice of W.C. Fields to stay off the stage with children. The modern version of that aphorism is to beware of being on the stage with Danny Scheie. His distinctive voice, sly stage presence and comedic vocal and physical timing are legion and he has the audience in stitches even when he as Gremio, loses the battle of wealth and the hand of Bianca to Traino/Lucentio.

To further keep the play in a light hearted mood, there is the addition of the songs of “Tom, Dick or Harry” from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, “Get Happy” [chase all your woes away] and a soft rock riff of “You Give Me Your Love [will you still love me still love me in the morning].” It is rare that you see Dan Hiatt and Rod Gnapp in humorous roles but they are just as adept at comedy as drama. Dan Hiatt will never live down the ridiculous costume designed for a second act entrance.

The shenanigans seem to fizzle in the early second act during the problematic scene with the tailor (Scheie again) that is played on the modernistic elevated platform on center stage but rapidly regains its momentum for the final scenes. Erica Sullivan under Cooper’s perfect direction gives the final monolog with shrewd innuendo suggesting to all women “we will get our way” while extolling submission to the married Bianca and the rich widow. The astonished look on Petruchio’s face is the perfect ending to a riotous evening, actually a balmy Sunday matinee. Running time two hours and 30 minutes.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com