A peek at Shakespeare in the Park’s upcoming offerings, Taming of the Shrew and One Hit Wonder
A few years ago, a very good friend of mine came up with a desperate philosophical response to the unyielding summertime weather in Chico: “The heat makes things happen.” Even though he was joking, his suggestion does point out the unavoidable necessity of coming up with coping strategies for nearly half a year of 90- to 100-and-whatever-degree temperatures.
Since swamp coolers are useless beyond degree number 95, activities in the outdoors, especially in the evening, are where it’s at. So, from late-July through early-August, five evenings a week, Chicoans will be heading out to Bidwell Park for the 2003 edition of Shakespeare in the Park.
This season, the Ensemble Theatre of Chico is presenting its homage to outdoor theater. For the first two weeks, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is scheduled, followed by two weeks of the second show, the world premiere of an original musical, The One Hit Wonder.
This year’s Shakespeare feature is directed by local theater mainstay Joyce Henderson. In addition to directing the play, Henderson also updated the script. “The dialogue is really adapted for this production,” Henderson shared, “Freely adapted.” Her version transplants Shakespeare’s comedy of the sexes into the Roaring 20s. With the script bent to resemble the period’s dialogue and the names of the characters adjusted accordingly as well (the smooth Lucentio is now Nicholas Rockafeller, and Bianca is changed to Chastity), this updated version provides a new locale for exploring the original’s themes.
Set to a backdrop of surrealist paintings (by scenic artist David Beasly), “John Pertruchio [played by Jeff Dickenson] and Kate [Betty Burns] are trying to break free of old conventionalism,” Henderson explained, connecting the convention-busting relationship roles of the play with phenomena of the same nature occurring during the pre-Depression glory days of America.
The second offering is a musical, written and directed by seminal Shakespeare in the Park figure Jerry Miller. “It loosely follows that film-noir drama [about] kids who get drawn into the dark world of boxing,” Miller explained.
The story follows two brothers who make their way to Los Angeles to realize the American Dream, ending up in the professional boxing world, where love and rivalries create danger and put friendships to the test.
The most intriguing component of Miller’s production is the musical aspect that promises to provide the connective tissue to the muscle of the story. As the title points out, the music in the play is a collection of one-hit wonders. Culled from the pop archives of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, Miller’s musical incorporates 30 testaments to the fleeting glory of pop stardom.
Respecting Miller’s desire to keep the song list a mystery, I won’t divulge the title of the song performed at a recent preview. But I will say that the number was fun, and that the direction is focused on clear and effective presentation of the memorable songs. Miller promises that the music will predict the action of the play and challenges the audience to try to “figure out [the songs] before” they’re performed.
With popular music favorites sung by a bevy of local talent, from Roger Montalbano to Sarah C. Foster, the closing play in this 2003 season of Shakespeare in the Park is poised to become refreshing respite during the hottest nights of summer.