Set a play in an amusement park, and then kick it off with raucous heavy-metal-edged rockabilly music and the near deafening sound of a roaring crowd, and you’ve raised the bar as well as the obvious question: Can the next couple of hours keep the promise of the hype?
The answer, thanks to the deft direction of David Ivers who assures a production as accessible as any Shakespearean work and a “Shrew” whose political incorrectness is sanitized by silliness, is a resounding “Yes.”
The updating and re-setting to a touristy Coney Island-like Padua boardwalk is spot-on, seamless and consonant with the content. Consider: If you had to pick a food that captures the flavor of this piece, I suspect you’d choose cotton candy. The pinker the better.
The story line centers on a family with two daughters. While the Daddy, Baptista (Robert Vincent Frank), is eager to marry off both of them, there’s a problem: While the younger sister, Bianca, a ditsy blonde played deliciously by Royer Bockus, has all the suitors, she can’t accept a proposal until the older one weds. And that’s doesn’t promise to be easy since Kate (Nell Geisslinger) has the likeability of a land mine.
Luckily for Bianca and a coterie of court-jester suitors, Petruchio (Ted Deasy), devoted to capturing Kate’s sizable dowry, is undeterred by her demeanor.
And so, the pretty and purpose-driven stage is set for a center-ring circus spotlighting Kate and Petruchio, along with a several satisfying sideshows with a complement of the most uncourtly court jesters.
There’s ardent suitor Lucentio (Wayne T. Carr) masquerading as a Latin tutor to get close to Bianca while his servant pretends to be him. And Hortensio (Jeremy Peter Johnson) who, for the same reason, poses as a music tutor.
And then there is David Kelly as Gremio, yet another suitor. Aided and abetted by the clownish performance of Tasso Feldman as his servent Grumio, and dressed to hilarious effect as a nerdy tourist, Kelly attacks the funny bone with a full-bodied comic vengeance. Once again, this guy is brilliant.
With Petruchio’s courtship of Kate, Shakespeare’s script would suggest that the circus ring should take on the feel of a boxing ring, with no holds barred. However, that’s not exactly what you will see at the Bowmer Theatre, where the script itself has, thankfully, been tamed.
Credit director Ivers for shaving the textual truth as necessary in order to render this production not only politically palatable but persistently playful.
The play, as written and intended, would be a serious affront to our more civilized sensibilities. And, in fact, even with his cutting and careful shaping, there is no way to avoid such scenes as Petruchio denying his bride dinner, even when the act—his dominance and her apparent submission—is couched in a semblance of good humor.
However, thanks to the nuanced performances of Geisslinger and Deasy, who throw their verbal weight around with wit and polish, pulling more punches than they deliver, the production mostly rides above the socio-political fray.
In fact, in the end, the players provide more than a hint that Kate is maintaining her integrity while making a pretense of her apparent submission. The minimal, but compelling, evidence has Kate presenting Petruchio with a come-hither crooked finger and an implied command. With no hesitation or argument, he heeds her call.
And happily, they live, ever after.
You can enjoy this rollicking amusement park ride through Nov. 3.
As a Realtor associated with Cascade Sothebys in Ashland and Southern Oregon, I want to thank you in advance for your business and your referrals. What could be better than working with someone who shares your love of theatre? Call me at 541-778-8949.