Young women gone wild
The Taming of the Shrew and As You Like It
William A. Carroll Amphitheatre3901 Land Park Dr.
Sacramento, CA 95822
Two comedies, each focusing on a gutsy, independent-minded young woman, are featured in this summer’s Sacramento Shakespeare Festival.
Director Christine Nicholson takes on the challenge of The Taming of the Shrew, a script that some summer festivals have more or less avoided during recent decades. As most readers know, the play involves the sharp-tongued Kate (Nina Breton), who figuratively bites the head off prospective suitors. She is married off (against her will) to the rakish Petruchio (Rick Eldredge), a soldier of fortune on the field of love who boasts (before he’s even met her) that he’ll find a way to make the marriage work, so long as Kate comes with a fat dowry from her wealthy father. Once the knot is tied, Petruchio uses escalating outlandish behavior (as well as a bit of sleep deprivation and meals he rejects on trumped-up objections that they aren’t good enough for Kate) to upstage Kate’s tantrums. By play’s end, they have become a mutually cooperative loving couple, against all odds.
My mother (whose name is Kate) has long harbored reservations about this play, and there are plenty of other people (not just women) who have similar feelings. But many of their objections stem from productions in which the “taming” is staged more or less straight. Director Nicholson’s feeling—and I concur—is that Shakespeare never intended that the play be interpreted literally. The story is clearly structured as a farce, with Petruchio’s antics (and costumes) becoming increasingly absurd.
Nicholson also blends in the high-energy, throw-in-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink style of comedy that she’s used in her popular “British pantos” for City Theatre. For example, Tom Rhatigan does elderly Gremio with a Monty Python-style “silly walk,” adding further distance from reality. When Kate’s conversion from a “shrew” into a “good wife” is presented in this nod-and-a-wink context, her transformation emerges as something akin to personal growth, from the hot-headed, self-centered complainer in the beginning into the far less flamboyant, more thoughtful (even generous) adult we witness at the end.
As You Like It is a very different kind of comedy. The opening scenes in the court of the paranoid Duke Frederick are increasingly tense and stressful, like the setup for a tragedy. But then the major characters flee and go into hiding in a forest, at which point the play becomes a pastoral comedy involving pairs of foolish lovers. Director David Harris locates the setting in 1972. The opening scenes feature military uniforms (think Vietnam), while the pastoral scenes become a hippie wonderland (San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, with tie-dye shirts, headbands, long hair, etc.). Jenna Cedusky does nicely as the central figure Rosalind (a plucky girl who dons male clothing and passes herself off as the boy Ganymede). Luther Hanson, as the melancholy Jaques, has a fine moment delivering the exceedingly famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech.
Both shows are spunky, heads-up community Shakespeare, organized through the Sacramento City College on a modest budget. Seating in the amphitheatre is unreserved, so bring low-slung beach chairs and arrive early for the best spots on the lawn. A picnic basket is an excellent idea; insect repellent and a sweater (handy after 9 p.m.) are recommended.