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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Rip Roaring Production of Shakespeare’s
The Taming of the Shrew

Also see Richard's review of Henry VI, Part 3 and Richard III

The Taming of the Shrew
Marcia Pizzo and Paul Sulzman
Marin Shakespeare Company is presenting James Dunn’s Wild West version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre on the Dominican University campus in San Rafael. This version was first seen at the College of Marin in 1970. The production was so popular with the British Consul General in San Francisco that he invited the company to play at the 1971 Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it was a smash hit. There was even a command performance before Princess Margaret and other members of the Royal Family. The Taming of the Shrew western version has appeared in various cities in California since that date, including the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 1997.

The Taming of the Shrew has appeared in many guises through its 400 year history, from the classical presentation to modern day productions. Shakespeare was an aficionado of low humor, and this comedy certainly has its share of knock about humor. There have been all-male productions, such as the Yale Rep presentation several years ago, and recently an all female account was a success in the U.K. Cole Porter had one of his biggest hits with the musical adaptation Kiss Me, Kate. Numerous films have been based on the raucous story of the courtship of Petruchio and Kate.

Director James Dunn has assembled an excellent core of actors to camp up the production, which includes a barroom fight, a rinky-tink piano man and a lovely young woman playing a sweet fiddle for the quick scene changes. He has even started the show with a prologue that is straight out of Once Upon a Time in the West with Ennio Maorricone’s music in the background. There is a man dressed in black in a quick draw session with a rookie who thinks he can best the gunslinger.

Shrew has also been one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, but it is a problematic one in today’s world. It is a convoluted story of love and marriage that features an antiquated theory about a wife’s duties to her husband, which does not ring true today. This production wisely refrains from altering the Bard’s text, and the dialogue flows very smoothly with the wit and cleverness of Shakespeare’s words. The actors sport Texas and Southwest accents, but Will’s words are not lost. It works very well and gives new meaning to the show for today’s audiences.

Paul Sulzman (Iago in Othello and George Hastings in She Stoops to Conquer) plays Petruchio as an appropriatetly, but nauseatingly, smug person as he manages to gain Baptista's permission to marry his daughter. During his big soliloquy in the first act, he mounts a barroom table, slowly singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Sulzman turns Petruchio into a blustering buffoon. The actual physical brawling between him and Katharina, played by Maria Pizzo (A Mother at ACT), is well done. The exchanging of double entendres between the two characters is a high point of the production.

Maria Pizzo is a different Kate than I have seen in the past. Appearing for the first time on stage in a Union soldier sergeant jacket, she appears a little too weak for the robust Kate. Her gusto is not utterly convincing. However, she gets into the character in the second act with the famed dinner scene at Petruchio’s house. She intelligently delivers the play's problematic final soliloquy but with no emotional context. It is a straightforward speech.

Overall, the cast gives excellent performances, especially Jonathan Gonzales as Petruchio’s servant. He actually steals the entrance of Petruchio in the first act with his Mexican bandit outfit and a sparkling gold tooth. He reminds me of the great Mexican character actor Alfonso Bedoya, who played Gold Hat in Treasure of Sierra Madre. Ian Swift is infectious as Gremio, the old geezer who wants to bed the husband to Bianca. His ham acting is priceless. Laurie Keith as Bianca comes off as not as pure or nice as she is supposed to be. She is a robust person who looks like she could give Kate a few knocks. Stephen Dietz is a perfect whiskey salesman and his drunken scene in the second act is first rate. Tyler McKenna plays Lucentio smoothly, while Nick Sholley does a great over the top comic acting as Tranio. The whole cast joins in with an old foot-stomping dance, singing the “The Yellow Rose of Texas” for a rousing ending.

Set designer Bruce Lackovic has transformed the stage into a western bar. The details include a nude painting behind the bar that looks like it came from Virginia City. Costumes by Denise Kirchner are very authentic western garb.

Shakespeare’s comedy will be playing on the outside stage of Forest Meadows Amphitheatre on the Dominican University campus on Grand Ave. in San Rafael through September 25. For tickets and information call 415-499-4488 or visit www.marinShakespeare.org.


Photo: Stephen Underwood


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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