AISLE SAY San Francisco


by William Shakespeare
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Shana Cooper
Bruns Memorial Amphitheater
100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, CA / (510) 548-9666

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Works by William Shakespeare are so timeless that -- despite the Elizabethan language -- they lend themselves to settings in almost any period of history. Thus guest director Shana Cooper chooses a contemporary setting for California Shakespeare Theater's production of "The Taming of the Shrew." This setting works as the fortune-hunting Petruchio (Slate Holmgren) takes on the challenge of wooing and winning the shrewish Katherine (Erica Sullivan).

The two-tier set by Scott Dougan features a sleekly mod living room above an open area with a spiral staircase connecting the two. Movement director Erika Chong Shuch has choreographed a muscular dance by all of the male characters except Petruchio to open the production. It sets the tone for the male-dominated culture of Padua, where women's lives are ruled by their fathers and husbands. In this case, Katherine is the elder daughter of Baptista (Rod Gnapp), who has decreed that his younger daughter, Bianca (Alexandra Henrikson), may not marry until Katherine has a husband. Hence Bianca's many suitors are more than pleased with the arrival of the brash Petruchio, who seems undaunted by Katherine's reputation.

What follows is the highly physical wooing scene, followed by the unconventional wedding and honeymoon, when Petruchio gradually bends Katherine to his will, thus "taming" her. She resists at first, but finally surrenders, in part because she's weary and in part because somehow she has come to love him (and he her) and has caught on to his game. Thus at the concluding wedding feast, when she lectures her sister and the newly married widow (Joan Mankin) about obeying their husband, one senses that she's having fun and that fun times are ahead for her and Petruchio.

Both Holmgren as Petruchio and Sullivan as Katherine are believable in their roles. They're ably supported by the entire cast. Besides those already mentioned, they include Dan Clegg as Tranio, Dan Hiatt as Gremio and Vincentio, Nicholas Pelczar as Lucentio, the hilarious Danny Scheie as Grumio and the tailor, Liam Vincent as Hortensio and Theo Black as Biondello.

Katherine O'Neill's costumes are sometimes so outrageous that they're distracting, especially Petruchio's revealing wedding attire, but York Kennedy's lighting, Jake Rodriguez's sound and Dave Maier's fight direction complement the production. Overall, it's highly entertaining, a notable conclusion to the 2011 season in the outdoor theater.

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