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The Taming of the Shrew

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Shakespeare's comedy, The Taming of the Shrew is, on its face, a troublesome play, not suited for our times. Its blatant misogyny is offensive to the relatively recent modern feminism and equality. But this comic "War of the Roses" is one of the Bard's most interesting character studies. The plot is rooted in the ideals of courtly love made fashionable by Sir Thomas Hoby's English translation of Count Baldassare Castiglione's 1528 The Book of the Courtier. Although Shakespeare meant this play as a satire, Hoby's book had become a serious self-help bible for the royal wanna-bes of the time.

So, what's a contemporary director to do? How about have fun with it, camp it up, do some silliness, and take the energy to another level? Director Ron Daniels does just that, and the current production at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre is better for it. The vigor of the production, beginning with a zany, noisy opening dance with serfs (the farmers, not the tide riders) wielding staffs (the stick, not the entourage), lessons the bump and grind of a Neanderthal dogma, elevating it to the ridiculous. Wonderfully performed by an enthusiastic troupe of student actors in the Old Globe/USD MFA Program, the dance is actually a take-off on the Elizabethan skimmington ride, a parade organized to publicly chastise those who flaunted convention.

Audience members, some sitting on stage, become villagers and part of some improvisational action, as characters race up and down aisles or climb over laps, some riding costume horses.

Ralph Funicello's scenic design includes the play's title in flamingly intense neon with a tilted W; Deirdre Clancy's brilliant, outrageous period costumes include a rip-apart gown and sunglasses. Olay! The stage is set for a madcap version of the play, and the production does not wane from its wild beginning, capitalizing on Shakespeare's penchant for role-switching and mistaken identities with a healthy dose of ridicule.

The story, in case you have missed the movie, "Kiss me, Kate," as well as any staging since, is about Katherine (Emily Swallow), an over-the-top assertive elder daughter of a backbone-lacking wealthy merchant, Baptista Minola (a convincingly pompous Adrian Sparks), eager to marry her off to any breathing male in the kingdom. Resisting the role of marketable property, Katherine has her not-so-cutesy ways of discouraging suitors. She has no use for the fairytale of wedded bliss nor for dad's motives for encouraging it, so she makes his life nearly as miserable as her own. Not only does daddy-o want dauntless daughter out of his house, he has ulterior motives that include an increase of fortune. Papa wants to settle the bride-price for his younger daughter Bianca (an engaging Bree Welch), who has no dearth of moneyed and/or willing suitors. Due to courtly custom and daddy's spinelessness, the elder offspring must be wed before the younger is betrothed. (Is it any wonder than our heroine is a bit, shall we say, irritated at her culture's conventions?)

Nevertheless, it is a medieval Neverland that produces a fortune-hunter eager to take on the opportunity and the woman who controls it to bolster his sagging fortunes. Enter Petruchio (Jonno Roberts), the champion of the milquetoasts, who immediately wins her father's permission, then scores Kate's acquiescence. How he accomplishes the latter would require a super willing suspension of disbelief without the magnetic scene between the two principals. Accompanied by his foolish servant Grumio (an athletic and amusing Bruce Turk), Petruchio has come to increase his fortune, but he did not anticipate the intrigue of a beautiful woman at least as smart as he. In Petruchio, Katherine has met her match, and she is intrigued at the same time she is defending her pride and dignity. The rebel with a (financial) cause meets the rebellious woman without prospects. It is a priceless scene, full of sexual tension and foreshadowing a rocky, but never boring, relationship.

It wouldn't be such a successful satire without the risk-taking of the starring duo, Emily Swallow as the _ _ _ _ _ (rhymes with "witch") new wife Katherine and Jonno Roberts as the _ _ _ _ (rhymes with "pick") new husband Petruchio. Both actors are masters of the tiny facial twitch, the sly cast of eye, the significant smile that contemporizes the ancient dialogue into progressive patois. Roberts plays his radiant smile and intensely handsome face to crafty advantage, and the stunning Swallow captures Katherine's haughty elegance with the perfectly timed emotion-switching that her multifaceted character demands. Together, they show this sexual struggle as a campaign of wits, just as Shakespeare envisioned, but nearly half a millennium later. It's as if Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf suddenly starred Mel Gibson and Whoopie Goldberg. Are you kidding? Would she really put up with his _ _ _ _ (rhymes with" lap")?

Adding comedic complexity is the trio of the younger sister Bianca's would-be beaus, who compete with each other for her attentions when they are not courting her father's alliance. There is Lucentio (a vigorous Jay Whittaker), a silly young man whose giddy, lovelorn antics emulate Tom Cruise's couch-bouncing. Attempting to get closer to his sweetheart, Lucentio masquerades as a tutor, switching places with his servant, Tranio, (an outrageous Michael Stewart Allen) to win the heart of his beloved.

Making the grade as the sexy senior citizen is Gremio (a dapper Joseph Marcell,) who has the Daddy Warbucks to take naive little Bianca to his pad, and the young impoverished imposter posing as land baron, Hortensio is an ultra campy Donald Carrier.

While Petruchio attempts to win Kate's heart by being nastier than she, employing sleep deprivation and starvation in his war to win her by breaking her down, the others stumble all over themselves to prove their devotion to her sweet younger sister and her greedy father. It matters not who is the winner, for all will gain their just due in the end. Hortensio weds a wealthy widow (a stunning Shirine Babb); Lucentio marries his girl, Bianca, and the servants resume their raucous skimmington ride. Before that resolution, another place-switching between a traveling pedant (Charles Janasz) masquerading as Lucentio's father Vincentio (Craig Dudley), who shows up unannounced, prompts another Shakespearen set of hijinks involving Tranio disguised as Lucentio.

Never mind trying to figure it all out. In this early comedy of one-uppance and comeuppance Shakespeare made his critique of convention. True to comedic form, in the end all is forgiven, and the world continues revolving exactly as it should. Perhaps.

Petruchio may believe he has tamed his Katherine. Yet, there is a hint in Lucentio's final line that this domesticated heroine is simply biding her time. If only there were a sequel.

William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" continues in repertory with "King Lear" and "The Madness of George III" through September 26 on the Old Globe Theatre's outdoor Lowell Davies Festival stage. Performances are designated Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 pm. Tickets are $29-$78. Reservations at (619) 23-GLOBE or online at www.theoldglobe.org

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.