Theater: Razzle-dazzle

Curtain Theatre presents a rollicking ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

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Sparks fly between famous characters Petruchio and Kate in ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ Photo courtesy of Curtain Theatre.

by David Templeton

You need not to have ever seen Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew to know what it’s about. More than 400 years after Shakespeare invented them, Kate and Petruchio—the feisty and ferocious fiancé and her would-be “tamer”—are among the most famous creations in Western theatrical literature. The pleasure of sitting down to a fresh production of such a well-known play is the anticipation of wondering if the cast, crew and director will make this old story seem new, unpredictable, surprising—or fail miserably in the attempt.

That’s always a possibility.

I am happy to report that in Curtain Theatre’s rollicking outdoor production—free to the public and running weekends in the Old Mill Park in Mill Valley—the only real failure on display was the fact that there were a few unhappy audience members who failed to bring a sweater or coat, and were visibly shivering in the second act when the Mill Valley fog began rolling in.

As for the production itself, it’s a blast.

There are plenty of fresh ideas, uniformly strong performances, a boatload of clever theatrical surprises and a few moments of true genius. The fluid, fast-paced direction by Carl Jordan—here tackling Shakespeare for his first time—results in a buoyant, bouncy fluff-ball of a play, with a stunningly high laugh-to-minute ratio, and gallons of charm and visual razzle-dazzle.

Though it follows the recent trend of occasionally replacing Shakespeare’s text with random non-Shakespearean lines, and adding original tunes, this Shrew works, proving to be an audacious, entertaining and thoroughly delightful staging of the Bard’s complex comedy about a battle of wits and words between a woman who will suffer no fools and the foolish man who finally wins her heart.

The setting and basic attire of the production are fairly traditional, with a live band playing Renaissance tunes before the show, but director Jordan lets us know early on that he will be taking a decidedly playful tone with the material, beginning with an original pop-rock-inspired tune that essentially stands as a prologue. In this production, people do tend to burst into song, tossing out snippets of popular rock songs, a few lovely originals by music director Don Clark and one hilariously heartbreaking rendition of ‘A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’

Kate (a splendidly three-dimensional Melissa Claire) makes her initial appearance wielding a chainsaw (a hilarious visual!), stalking across the stage while belting out the lyrics of George Thorogood’s ‘Bad to the Bone. Petruchio (Alan Coyne, excellent) is played as a goofy sweetheart with a giddy knack for improvisational madness, and questionable taste in codpieces.

The marvelous ensemble is too large to give proper credit to all, but notable standouts include a brilliant Heather Cherry as Petruchio’s frazzled servant Grumio, Tom Reilly as Kate’s gracefully befuddled father, Juliana Lustenader as Kate’s shallow-but-winsome sister Bianca, Steve Beecroft as the crafty servant Tranio and an amiably silly Seth Dahlgren as Hortensio, a wildly persistent suitor to Bianca.

And … did I mention that the show is free?

After 16 years, Curtain Theatre is still managing to exist solely on the donations that audiences happily drop in the baskets at the end of the show. And trust me—this one is well worth paying to see.

NOW PLAYING: The Taming of the Shrew runs on Saturdays, Sundays and Labor Day, through September 13, at Old Mill Park Amphitheatre in Mill Valley. All shows begin at 2pm. Free. For more information, visit curtaintheatre.org.

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