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The Taming of the Shrew                  Shakespeare Santa Cruz, 2004

Anne Bennet - Santa Cruz Sentinel

The midsummer explosion of theater excitement known as Shakespeare Santa Cruz has begun.  The Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen is alive with the delights of The Taming of the Shrew and anticipation grows for the remaining two productions…

Shakespeare Santa Cruz manages to accomplish the taming of the intriguing Kate with somewhat less insulting results than other productions I’ve seen. Director Tim Ocel, working in the lovely environment of the Festival Glen, creates a marvelously funny Shrew.  His cast enunciates with great success, and the audience enjoys the jokes and puns enormously.

It’s almost impossible to discuss The Taming of the Shrew without first admitting that yes, we all know it’s politically incorrect and that the premise of a woman needing to be “tamed” is not only unlikely but probably impossible and certainly not a desirable state of affairs. So it’s true that Shakespeare’s funniest (in my opinion) comedy is possibly also the most risky choice for contemporary audiences.  That Petruchio finds it necessary (because of his own macho ego?) to subject the headstrong Kate to browbeating, starvation, humiliation and contempt in order to make her wife-worthy is certainly not a palatable concept.  To be honest, it’s abhorrent to most of us.

The play never explains why Kate was such a bitch to begin with, and it never really clarifies—at least for me—whether Kate, was battered into submission or whether she chose to accept a pseudo-submission for reasons of her own; in other words, did she actually manipulate the outcome to suit herself?  (Yes, I know this is the apologist’s argument.)

There are many scenes that consist of wordplay solely for the fun of it, and the actors capitalize on this with fine diction and clever delivery; not aline is lost to fuzzy mumbling. Ocel’s direction is well paced and visually pleasing, and the characters evolve with fine definition.

Blaire Chandler is the ultimate Kate: She berates her sister and father, and indeed anyone who comes in contact with her, with stunning sarcasm and withering scorn.  When confronted by the determined Petruchio, she doesn’st waver.  She accepts his torment but she also, slowly and believably, accepts his love for her—and her transformation is, finally, credible.

Chandler is a superb actress who contributes subtle nuances to a difficult role.  Robertson Dean is a perfect match for the ferocious lady.  His Petruchio arrives in town with smug determination, adequate credentials and a desire to "wed wealthily."  When he hears about Kate, he confidently takes on the challenge.

But Dean allows us to recognize that the rich Kate soon becomes for him more than a betting conquest, as Petruchio grows to realize that he must subdue her to win her, and this he does.  Dean’s ability to show this underlying love without losing the essence of the battle creates the revelation that gives the drama its singular beauty.

Their passionate love story is played out amid the usual chaos of Shakespeare’s comedies.  There are, as always, characters taking on the roles of other characters, purposely mistaken identities, and lots of punny jokes.

Fine performances by MikeRyan, Cody Nickell and Tommy Gomez add to the fun and the confusion.  Morgan Davis is appropriately self-centered and cloying as Kate’s spoiled younger sister, and Daniel Parker and especially Patrick Kerr are delightful as her hopeful suitors.

The Shrew is set in the1940s, for no particular reason that I could figure out.  While Shakespeare’s plays, on the whole, never suffer from being shifted from one century to another—after all, it’s the language that is their most compelling attraction—the choice of an era when women were beginning to discover their potential and power is somewhat quirky.

The choice does, however, provide B. Modern with an opportunity to make use of her skills in coming up with eclectic and interesting costumes.  The set, designed by Kate Edmunds, is bleak and gray; the simple, accommodating backdrop is unimaginative and fails to take advantage of the spectacular Festival Glen space.  As a setting for such a romp and comedy, it doesn’st contribute any visual excitement.  The Taming of the Shrew is, because of or despite its unlikely scenario, a deceptively funny play, one that gets you laughing whether you like it or not.

And Shakespeare Santa Cruz doesn’t miss a beat.  The production is a splendid one, and even after all these years, Kate and Petruchio never fail to play games with your imagination.

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Robertson Dean

The Taming of the Shrew


Shakespeare Santa Cruz


Photo: r.r. jones