Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Taming the Shrew

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, May 5—

AND WHAT OF the last of the three plays we saw over the weekend in Glendale? Well, treated reasonably decently, Shakespeare's Shrew-taming can't really fail, and while Geof Elliott's direction went over the top now and then, and while the vocal delivery annoyed me if not the rest of the audience with its occasional alternation of chant, shout, and whisper, there was a lot to like about this production.

Elliott transposed the time to the mid-20th century, leaving the action in Padua. There were bicycles, radios, and the chewing of gum. Costumes were what-you-can-find and hilarious: when Vincentio turns up, in the reasonable, comprehending person of William Dennis Hunt, he's wearing plus fours, as if he'd gone golfing in the 1930s and hadn't been able to change clothes since.

The play rides or falls from its lead couple, of course, and they were fine: Steve Weingartner a resourceful, mercurial Petruchio; Allegra Fulton a mean-tempered, lanternjawed Kate. Both seemed to me more fully thought-out individuals than is often the case: these were people you cared about and were interested in, not simply funny characters in a predictable tussle. The rest of the cast was quite sound, well up to the principals; I particularly liked Jane Noseworthy's fleshed-out, put-upon Bianca; but the speed of the action and the occasional indistinctness of the lines made them more of a jumble than is necessarily the case.

What I particularly liked about Elliott's direction was the parallels it drew between Shakespeare and commedia dell'arte, suggested but never belabored; and occasonal flashes of revelation — Vincentio foretells Prospero: who'd ever noticed that before?

A Noise Within has one season left in its present theater; then, if all goes well, it moves into a brand-new installation in Pasadena. It's been in its present location for a number of years; we've been seeing nearly all its plays since 2001. Over those seasons it's reminded me of the Michael Leibert's Berkeley Repertory Theater, the company that played in improvised digs up on College Avenue, making marvelous theater out of poverty and enthusiasm and intelligence.

This season was, I think, the best yet for NW. Hamlet, The Rainmaker, Oliver Twist; Ghosts, The Rehearsal, The Taming of the Shrew: fine balance between familiar and unusual but all classical, tested, beautifully thought-out and developed, and presented by casts with real sense of ensemble. I look forward to next season.
The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare, directed by Geoff Elliott. Lucentio: Antonie Knoppers; Tranio: Jeremy Rabb; Baptista: Apollo Dukakis; Gremio: Tom Fitzpatrick; Kate: Allegra Fulton; Bianca: Jane Noseworthy; Hortensio: Stephen Rockwell; Biondello: Tim Venable; Petruchio: Steve Weingartner; Grumio: Alan Blumenfeld; Curtis: Andy Steadman; Pedant: Mitchell Edmonds; Vincentio: William Dennis Hunt (also a hilarious Tailor). Repeats May 6, 7, 16, 17.

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