Okay, I’ll say it. I haven’t seen a production of The Taming of the Shrew that comes anywhere close to this vivid interpretation of the story. It is spectacular! Truth be told, this is one of Shakespeare’s plays I normally don’t like – not because of the story itself but because modern day versions of the play often interpret Petruchio as a completely unlikeable, obnoxious, ego-driven jerk, and Kate as a one-dimensional horrible woman who screams and rages from beginning to nearly the end until her spirit is finally broken by his dominance. It’s a pretty unbelievable story to wrap your head around when viewed seriously, but when you see it through the eyes of director Ellen Geer, it plays out with farcical delight, much to the immense joy of the audience.
Geer takes this bull by the horns and crafts the play within a play conceit (often edited out of productions) as a prank played by a group of modern day jokers on a drunk and very funny Christopher Sly (Gerald C. Rivers). They entice a troupe of actors to present the story of Kate (Willow Geer) and Petruchio (Aaron Hendry) for his pleasure and set him up with a few additional surprises that seal the comic deal. The poor man becomes so involved in the telling of the story that his impulsive outbursts are hilarious punctuations to a lively and dynamic affair.
What makes this production soar, however, is its leading lady and man. Geer and Hendry have phenomenal chemistry that sizzles with every hard-headed encounter. Hendry meets her spiteful barbs with fearless brio in a charismatic performance unlike any Petruchio I’ve seen. He takes on the task of wooing the shrew with overwhelming joy, and an infinite twinkle in his eye to boot, making this courtship an endless series of laughs.
Geer responds to his bewildering persistence with striking originality. Yes, her histrionics are hilarious, as you’d expect, but she also allows the audience to see the rest of Kate in the moments when her anger is replaced by uncertainty, sadness, and even longing. Watching these two unlikely lovers open their hearts to each other will melt yours. Plus, it’s pretty darn hysterical to see how far they go in their physical fights and then to watch them discover their unanticipated desire when they kiss.
The cast is a well-appointed passel of players. Fast-talking Melora Marshall [pictured above with Hendry] is a scene-stealing Grumio, Petruchio’s ready to rabble sidekick. Always one to find the most interesting quirks in her characters, Marshall’s Grumio is no exception. Her performance reaches a feverish high point in Act IV scene 1 when Grumio relates the story of Petruchio and Kate’s journey home to the servants in preparation for their arrival. Pay attention; it is deliriously funny.
Christopher W. Jones (Hortensio) and tottering Bill Gunther (Gremio) compete for the fair Bianca (Jessica Butenshon at this performance) but she only has eyes for fresh-faced John Maidman (Lucentio) who switches places with his servant Jeff Wiesen (Tranio) to woo her in disguise. Franc Ross (Baptista) takes advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to marry off Katherine but ends up eating his words about both of his daughters by the end of the play.
Shrew lends itself beautifully to the Theatricum stage and Ellen Geer uses the full breadth of the grounds to stage her action, often enveloping the audience on all sides. Val Miller’s Renaissance costumes add fire with bold shades of red, burgundy and orange. Sound designer Ian Flanders gives the production a Foley artist’s touch with sound effects and musical accompaniment by cast members from the balcony contrasting the traditional with the contemporary.
You want to have a really great time at the theater, with Shakespeare, and with Shrew? Go. See. This. Play. Without reservation I recommend Theatricum’s Taming of the Shrew for your summer entertainment. I was won over immediately and you will be too.
Shakespeare in LA
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
Pre-show discussion on Sunday, July 28 at 2:30 pm (included in ticket price)
Tickets: (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com
The outdoor amphitheater at Theatricum Botanicum is terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Snacks are available at the Hamlet Hut, and picnickers are welcome before and after the performances.
Click Here for more terrific photos from the show.