Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night

Rated 4.0 Freewheeling gamblers. Amiable drunks whose giddy antics after sundown cross the line from harmless carousing into annoying excess. And fortune-hunting suitors, whose matrimonial intent is spurred more by money than amour.

We’re talking Shakespeare, of course—specifically the characters in the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s productions of Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night.

But we could be talking about certain members of the audience as well, and folks back at the hotel. Tahoe Shakespeare, after all, is a festival held almost in the shadow of the casinos, and—human nature being what it is—it’s easy to see aspects of Shakespeare’s characters reflected all around, during and after the show.

Shrew has fallen somewhat out of favor these last few decades. The “taming” of the sharp-tongued Kate ran counter to the heyday of feminism, and several festivals offered revisionist productions in recent years, tinkering with the ending.

Tahoe director Carolyn Howarth interprets Shrew entirely as comedy (complete in itself) without larger implications—and a pretty funny comedy at that.

Howarth’s bright style with physical comedy is much in evidence—the initial meeting between Petruchio and Kate is both a battle of wits and a physical brawl, as the two sling verbal retorts over clashing swords. Rebecca Dines is a good choice as Kate, feisty but attractive. Claire Henkel’s costumes run to buccaneers and beachwear. And the concept carries into smaller roles—Biondello (Scott Gilbert), normally a minor character, becomes a memorable cameo here as a laid-back surfer whose brains have cooked a little too long in the sun.

Twelfth Night is less of an all-out romp, and rightly so, since the story pings back and forth between late-night revelry and touching turns of fate.

On the one hand, you’ve got the drunken antics of Sir Toby Belch (Brad Myers, a big man with extensive experience in supporting roles in Shakespeare shows, new to Tahoe). And as a foil, the overly proud Puritan Malvolio (Robert Sicular, another veteran new to Tahoe, whose performance is worth the price of admission).

But Twelfth Night is also a comedy in which tragedy is ever near the edge—angry outbursts and fateful partings threaten right up until the final scene, when the story gives way to a mysterious and wonderful conjunction of reunions and reconciliations. Director Robert Weinapple reinforces this by moving the setting from mythical Illyria to czarist Russia, an era fully freighted with history, both light and dark.

The multiple romances of Twelfth Night are evident—several couples tie the knot at the end, as in Shrew. And Jennifer Wagner does well as Viola, a girl of noble birth who dresses as a boy in order to get close to Duke Orsino. But in this production, the comic characters dominate, including the jester Feste (Jonathan Rhys Williams, fresh from the B Street Theatre’s tragic Beauty Queen of Leenane) and the foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek (J.G. Smith).