PHAEDRA a WOW at Shotgun Players TAMING OF THE SHREW at Calshakes a raucous romp

Catherine (Catherine Castellanos) is given a kiss on the cheek by her husband Antonio (Keith Burkland) in Shotgun Player's Phaedra now through October 23.

PHAEDRA written by Adam Bock and directed by Rose Riordan. The Shotgun Players, The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley. 510-841-6500 or September 24 – October 23, 2011.

PHAEDRA a WOW at Shotgun Players

Adam Bock and the fledgling Shotgun Players wowed San Francisco with a production of Swimming in the Shallows in the minuscule cellar stage at the Rhino Theatre back in the year 2000. Thus began the love affair between Bock and Shotgun who have done it again with of Bock’s modern day version of Racine’s Phaedra that opened as part of Shotgun’s 20th season. Get thee hence to see this stunning staging and be transfixed for 90 minutes (including an intermission) of brilliant theatre.

Whereas Swimming in the Shallows had a set created of “wooden box and a tarp”, this time around they have a magnificent set by the talented Nina Bell that alone is worth the price of admission. Bock’s script deserves nothing less and is an absolute gem given a splendid performance by a dedicated cast.

There is no need to know the Greek legend to appreciate Bock’s adaptation, except to know that human nature has not changed since the time of the ancient Greeks. He uses minor form Greek choruses by having each player give a monolog externalizing their inner thoughts that are specific to the action and blend seamlessly into the timeline of the plot. Olibia (Trish Mulholland), the long-time and trusted maid, is first to set the scene and she has bee assigned the play’s humor. Yes, the play is a tragedy (not in the classic sense) but Bock always seems to balances his plays with humor intertwined with the drama.

Antonio (Keith Burkland) a prominent judge is in a loveless second marriage to obsessive compulsive Catherine (Catherine Castellanos). Paulie (Patrick Alaprone), the son/stepson is returning from a drug rehab center back into their home and inexplicably is to have the room of his sister who is away at a private school. Catherine’s rigid resistance to the return of Paulie becomes terrifying evident when the real reason for the animosity is her hidden love for her stepson. Paulie returns with Taylor (Cindy Im) whom he has met and bonded with at the rehab center stirring jealousy in his stepmother. His father is adamant that Paulie not associate with her, further driving a wedge between father and son. The scene is set for the build-up of events that are to explode with the certainty of the coming dawn.

Every actor performs with skill but it is Castellanos who is absolutely brilliant as her character descends into emotional hell with complete destruction of her compulsive behavior. Bock amplifies on William Congreve’s line from the play called "The Mourning Bride" (1697), "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." Keith Burkland’s interpretation of a bigoted, unyielding individual without compassion is pitched perfect. Patrick Alparone almost matches the torment found in Castellanos’ acting and his scenes with the lovely Cindy Im are touching. Trish Mulholland’s wry delivery and brisk entrance and exits are just right for the humor written into the part.

Written as a series of temporal scenes the staging (Rose Riordan), lighting (Lucas Krech) and sound design allow the action to flow without a break in the continuity. Between scenes, depicting passage of time there is the quiet ticking of a clock with atmospheric light cues that keep the audience riveted awaiting the coming action.

At the risk of being redundant, once again Adam Bock and Shotgun Players have put a capitalize WOW into the Bay Area theatre scene.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of


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

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