William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is one of the Bard's most controversial comedies. There is some debate as to its true authorship and place in the canon, to say nothing of the free-for-all raging around its supposed politically incorrect attitudes toward women in the never-ending battle of male/female politics.
Donovan Johnson's energetic production for the Oberon Theatre Ensemble, which set the comedy as a floor show in the glitzy, money-hungry Las Vegas of the 1980s, did nothing to answer any of those questions, and did very little, pro or con, to the integrity of the comedy itself. Though the conceit of the concept was nearly forgotten by the middle of the first act, Johnson and his mostly fabulous cast had a field day as they turned this classic on its ear in a production that, while lopsided from some key miscasting, never failed to entertain with its whimsical, and at times enchanting, charm.
Unfortunately, the weak links were front and center. The Kate of Laura Siner (Oberon's marketing director) played one long, angry note throughout, while the Petruchio of Brad Fryman (Oberon's managing director) played far too many notes - all of them loud and most of them flat. But if this bit of casting hampered the production, it did not completely stop it from taking on a life of its own.
Johnson's fast-paced direction kept the evening spinning merrily out of control as the supporting cast, forced to compensate for the vacuum at the center of the whirlwind, took focus with a wild sense of irreverent fun. Playing fast and loose with Shakespeare's text, the company was comfortable enough with the language to take audacious risks that paid off handsomely. Jarel Davidow as a sly Lucentio, Jane Courtney as a not-quite air-headed Bianca and Elowyn Castle as a graciously commanding Baptista were fabulous, as were Flint Beverage as a thuggish Grumio, and Annmarie Benedict and James P. Engle in a variety of roles. But the evening belonged to William Green's Christopher Sly as long as he was on stage. A brilliant physical comedian, Green made delicious sense of the oft-cut part of Sly, his every line reading
convulsively funny as he murdered the Shakespearean rhythms with a purposeful glee.
The terrific scenery, the combined efforts of Michael Morrows, Linda Hetrick, Fryman, and Green, was a colorful monument to Las Vegas via Little Italy's San Gennaro Festival, and, combined with Don Guy's lighting and Denise Verrico's imaginative costumes and props, set a tone of spectacular tackiness that was just right.
The very reasons for the existence of an Off-Off-Broadway company can sometimes be the biggest roadblocks to a complete success. Not to say that Siner and Fryman lacked ability, but if Kate and Petruchio had been cast with performers better-suited to these particular roles, this production of The Taming of the Shrew would have been sublime. Everything else necessary to a dynamic success was already in place.
(Also featuring Angela Hicks, April Hicks, Donovan
Johnson IV, Michael Morrows, Caise Rode, Warren
Soo Hoo, Richard Thompkins.)
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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita