BWW Reviews: Laughter Rules in Independent Shakespeare Co.'s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
It begins with a wager and ends with a food fight and in between the laughs fly fast and furious in Independent Shakespeare Co.'s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. Yes, throughout much of the play those laughs come at the expense of one woman, Katherine (Melissa Chalsma as the shrew of the title), but director David Melville turns the shenanigans into an indisputably jolly event. In Griffith Park that's really what it's all about as every weekend thousands of LA theatre lovers come to share in the laughter during ISC's Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival. Along with SHREW the company is offering Twelfth Night in rep through August 31. Catch both; each one is a comic delight.
Twelfth Night is always a rousing good time and though SHREW is as witty as any of Shakespeare's comedies, and bawdy through and through, it can still be challenging for a modern audience to accept the constant one-sided assault on women. In Shakespeare's day, however, women had little voice of their own and female characters could only be played by men on stage so it makes sense that Elizabethans would find Kate fair game for the kind of behavior thrust upon her by Petruchio (Luis Galindo). If you can take the fun in the spirit ISC intends it then you will find their spin on the production a most entertaining and appealing one. My party certainly did.
Eliminating the framing narrative of the drunken Christopher Sly in their Fellini-esque picture of 1950s Italy, ISC dives right into the main story in which Baptista refuses to marry off his comely daughter Bianca until he first finds a husband for Katherine, the eldest. It's a reasonable condition but problematic because Kate's reputation as a disagreeable shrew is known far and wide. Enter Petruchio, who has come to Padua for no other reason than to find a rich wife. He doesn't care what her temperament is as long as she has money and before long this mismatch made in heaven finds themselves wedded and headed for marital bliss...but not until the taming is complete.
The staging is physical and the pacing brisk as Chalsma and Galindo hurl barbs across the stage like the proverbial slings and arrows of outrageous fortune looking for a place to land. He thinks nothing of throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and she remains gorgeous whether in control of her surroundings or not. Even in her most disheveled state there is a beauty that shines through. Perhaps it is true that you have to strip away the steely layers of protection in order to find the vulnerable jewel within. The fun with this pair is in not knowing what they will do next and after their bold dramatic pairing as Macbeth and Lady M last season it is a real treat to see them battle comically at the other end of the spectrum.
A particularly able-bodied cast supports the duo with many of the players featured in memorable scenes. André Martin is in rare form as Tranio, servant to Lucentio who agrees to impersonate his master so that Lucentio (Sean Pritchett) can woo Bianca (Erika Soto) also in disguise. The plot twist provides the perfect set-up for Martin to manhandle the comedy and mine it for all it's worth...and he does so from beginning to end.
Thomas Ehas (Gremio) and Erwin Tuazon (Hortensio) as two of Bianca's suitors, and Richard Azurdia as Petruchio's servant Grumio, are also standouts. You can't help but feel sorry for Ehas when the older gentleman must drop out of the running for Bianca's hand because he cannot pledge more wealth than all he has to compete with the younger Tuazon.
And, in an often overlooked role, Joseph Culliton as Katherine's father Baptista gives one the sense that part of his determination to marry off Katherine is that the poor man wants to make entirely sure he isn't left with an uncontrollable daughter living at home in his golden years. In these days of adult children continuing to depend on the kindness of their parents, one can completely sympathize.
Musical interludes, roller skating young lovers, pies in the face and plenty of Three Stooges-inspired comedy come packaged in a production that cheerfully plays to the company's strengths. By now ISC has developed a reputation for delivering a rousing good time whenever they strut their stuff and with this visit to the Mediterranean they once again easily delivers the goods.
It may be marry now, woo later, but the sweet life is certainly within reach in Griffith Park.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
July 24 - August 29, 2014
Independent Shakespeare Co.
Griffith Park Free Shakespeare at the Old Zoo in Griffith Park
More information: (818) 710-6306
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Pictured above: Melissa Chalsma as Katherine and Luis Galindo as Petruchio
Photo credit: Grettel Cortes