Friday, August 2, 2013


Fred Arsenault and Gretchen Hall
Laughter and love reign in gorgeous SSC 'Taming of the Shrew'

Shakespeare Santa Cruz launches its 2013 season with a crowd-pleasing, often uproarious production of The Taming of the Shrew. The company has a newly rebuilt and reconfigured performance space to show off in the Sinsheimer/Stanley Festival Glen (although to the lay viewer, nothing appears to be radically altered), and they inaugurate it in style with this visually gorgeous production.

Lively incidental music and B. Modern's lavish costumes evoke the Renaissance, while the action flows gracefully across Michael Ganio's formidable, multi-tiered set, and all around the Glen. It's a splendid setting for one of Shakespeare's brightest, yet most misunderstood romantic comedies.

Director Edward Morgan wisely keeps the emphasis on laughter (literally; every character has his own distinctive chuckle), so that the lusty romantic coupling at the play's core sneaks up on the audience by stealth, then explodes in all its heartfelt complexity.
Hortensio (William Ellsman) woos Bianca (Victoria Nassif)

Things get going with the arrival of fussbudgety Hortensio (the hilarious William Elsman) and elderly Gremio (an irascibly funny Kit Wilder), two wealthy suitors to pretty young Bianca (Victoria Nassif). But her doting father, Baptista (the wonderful V Craig Heidenreich, who always manages to coax four or five insinuating syllables out of his daughter's name), has decreed that Bianca cannot wed until her elder sister, Katherine (Gretchen Hall) finds a husband.

Katherine, underappreciated by a father who clearly prefers her sister, and too smart to suffer fools gladly or curb her sarcasm, is ill-tempered most of the time, and the dynamic Hall shows us every atom of her frustration.

But Bianca's suitors collude with Petruchio (Fred Arsenault, suitably robust and witty), a rough-hewn, outspoken knight from Verona, to woo Katharine.

The play is often considered problematic, chiefly by those who interpret the words "taming" and "shrew" too literally. Kate is profoundly unhappy in her home life and unable to escape it by any other means than marriage. Petruchio is an eccentric drawn to an unconventional spirit equal to his own. He's not trying to break her spirit, nor demanding Kate's blind obedience to a capricious master; rather, he is asking her to trust him in maneuvering around social conventions to create an extraordinary life together.
In an effective production like this one, Kate's final speech resonates because we understand the complicity between the two of them—to rise up together above the mundane conventions of their society and live on their own terms. Their partnership is not a "taming," it's a liberation—for both of them. We get that here when Arsenault's jaunty Petruchio reacts to Kate's speech not with a victor's smugness, but with astonished awe. His Kate has outwitted them all, and we see in their final embrace the birth of a genuine love match that warms the audience all the way home. (Read more)

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