The Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare completists get an unusual treat right up front in director Kim McCann’s production for the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival. McCann stages the play’s induction. This is a pair of opening scenes, which typically are cut, in which a drunk passes out and becomes the object of a jest.
The unconscious drunk is carried to a lord’s bedchamber. When the drunk comes to, he’s greeted by servants and his “wife” (a page in drag evoking shades of Monty Python), who worry about his “lunatic” behavior.
A visiting troupe of players interrupts this practical joke, and the story for which Shrew is famous—the stormy relationship between Petruchio and Kate—unfolds as a play within a play, as the playwright apparently intended. This obviates the need for fancy sets, because wandering players in the Bard’s day traveled light (unlike in today’s touring Broadway shows).
McCann ups the ante by converting several bedside attendants from the induction into last-minute additions to the cast in the tale of Petruchio and Kate. They perform “on book,” with scripts in hand. It’s a very clever conceit, one that McCann apparently used in an earlier Sacramento Shakespeare Festival production of Shrew some years ago. However, inattentive viewers may have difficulty grasping the concept.
McCann also grafts on a pirate motif that didn’t come from Shakespeare. Petruchio and his retinue are dressed as semi-buccaneers, similar to the Foothill Theatre Company’s 2002 production of the play at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.
This leaves the critical question of how to handle the main story, in which the strong-willed, sharp-tongued, single-and-thankful- for-it Kate is rather forcibly transformed by the brash Petruchio into a polite, contented wife. It’s a tough dilemma. Though Shrew historically has been a popular play, it nearly went into eclipse (or came in for revisionist interpretations) during the 1970s and 1980s, when feminism was ascendant.
Its staging is still a hot potato. Is it a battle of the sexes? If so, how physical should it be? (The director’s note confesses “trepidation,” given “today’s awareness of domestic violence.”) Is it truly a comedy, or is it also something of a cautionary tale? Stranger still, does this play ultimately resolve itself as the most unlikely of love stories? Opposites attract, after all.
McCann steers a generally moderate course throughout. Her Petruchio (played by Ed Gyles Jr.) is big and tall, with a booming voice, a toothy smile and the requisite streaks of outrageousness and opportunism. But when the chips are down, he shows a tender side, as well.
Katarina, or Kate (played by the aptly named Katherine Pappa), is barely chest-high in comparison to Gyles, and she probably weighs half as much as he does. Still, she goes toe to toe with him as an equal, with a gleam in her eye.
The big, extroverted supporting cast includes Jes Gonzales as Petruchio’s lieutenant Grumio, who buzzes quickly through his comeback lines with worldly cynicism. Bosomy Chenelle Doutherd, squeezed into an outfit that looks like a candidate for a Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction, contributes a spirited cameo as Vincentio late in the play.
McCann does overuse one technique: inserting a few too many musical motifs from movies and TV to lend emphasis to selected lines. Last Saturday’s performance also was marred by clicks and hums from the inefficient sound system, which has been a problem in years past, also. There was background noise from a competing event at Fairytale Town and even from fireworks over Raley Field in West Sacramento. A quartet of invading geese from the nearby pond also waddled through the fence and nearly upstaged the actors in one scene.
As with any community theater production, there are a few young actors who are still learning how to handle Shakespeare’s language and their moves onstage. Remember that this is an unpretentious local production organized through Sacramento City College. Enjoy the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival for what it is: a pleasant evening’s entertainment in an attractive, casual setting, close to home, and reasonably priced for what you get. Comparisons with larger, richer festivals that use union actors would be a matter of apples and oranges (or berries and watermelons).
On a practical note, bring a blanket and a picnic for the best spots on the grass. Very low lawn chairs are recommended, because the bench seating is not particularly comfortable. And don’t forget a sweater and long pants. It gets chilly after 10 p.m.