As the opening salvo of their 2000 summer repertory season, the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum has launched a totally enjoyable and accessible rendering of Shakespeare’s troublesome comedy “The Taming of the Shrew.” Director Ellen Geer has instilled a complete sense of confidence of purpose within a large, outrageously irreverent ensemble that actually makes sense out of the Bard’s arbitrary and contradictory plot. Much credit for this goes to the inspired pairing of Jim Lefave’s robust Petruchio, who has “come to wife it wealthily in Padua,” with Melora Marshall’s comedically misanthropic Kate.
Intertwining Shakespeare’s Italian Renaissance setting with Rae Robison’s contemporary thrift store costum-ing, Geer’s action-packed staging is facilitated by the bucolic sprawl of Theatricum’s outdoor setting, allowing the ensemble to often explode on and off the stage from almost every area of the property. Utilizing soft rock ditties and modern-day ad-libs at will, the director is less concerned with Shakespeare’s literal dialogue than with his meaning. Having Petruchio and his band of servants attired as Vietnam vets and Kate’s corporate mogul dad, Baptista (Tom Allard), connected to his cel phone may not conjure up the atmosphere of old Padua but does provide a powerful underscore to the character interaction.
Intractable Baptista is determined to follow the path of tradition, holding off hot-to-trot Hortensio (Sheridan Crist), Gremio (Ford Rainey) and Lucentio (Justin Doran), all suitors for Baptista’s winsome younger daughter, Bianca (Inara George), until someone has “wed, bed and rid the house” of elder sister, Kate. There is never a false moment in any portrayal, providing a firm basis for all the shenanigans as everyone tries to remove the formidable Kate as the obstacle to the promised land of Bianca.
The ensemble provides such a good time of LeFave’s Petruchio bulldozing the seething Kate to the alter in the first act and terrorizing her through most of the second, that it’s of little matter Kate’s ultimate capitulation speech in the final scene is totally out of character and out of sync with the play. Marshall’s sensually provocative delivery of Kate’s avowed submissiveness makes it easy to believe this Kate will never be any man’s chattel no matter what words are coming from her mouth.
Supporting characters are a joy. George is a simpering, calculating delight as the younger sister who knows exactly what her attributes are and how to use them to ultimate effect. Justin Doran’s always plotting, aristocratic Lucentio and Aaron Hendry as his willing servant Tranio add to the plot’s savory machinations. Deserving special mention are Allard, who’s Baptista turns parental ineptitude into high art, and Alan Blumenfeld, who plays Petruchio’s manservant Grumio as if the play were all about him.