Seldom considered a high mark in the struggle for women's rights, Shakespeare's comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" gains a few points in a locally produced version.
One of the conceits applied by director Michael Jordan to the "Shrew" being toured by Classics in the Park is that virtually all of the servants, historically male, are played by women. In addition, the merchant Baptista here is played by Irene S. Silbert as Senora Baptista--who looks young enough to be her character's own daughter.
This doesn't actually add any new dimensions or insights to the original work, mind you--a few jokes, maybe--but it does give some local belles an opportunity to strike back at all of those men and boys to whom Shakespeare (and tradition) used to assign the female roles.
The device doesn't hurt, either, and is consistent with the overall good-hearted spirit of Shakespeare's tale of Senora Baptista's attempt to marry off the aggressive Kate (Allison Levine) and the dashing, foppish, and somewhat egocentric Petruchio's (Bernard Hamel) efforts to win her love.
Produced by the Conejo Recreation and Park District, the Performing Artists Guild of Thousand Oaks and Jordan's own Gothic Productions, this "Shrew" debuted last Saturday at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks, and can be seen weekends through Aug. 18 at locations--most of them outdoor--throughout southern Ventura County and northern Los Angeles County, ranging from Port Hueneme to Agoura and Malibu, to Simi Valley.
The price is right--it's free. And where most local theater program notes are devoted in some part to the actors' biographies and dedicating their performance to some lover, friend or pet, the Jordan version eliminates biographies and dedications, devoting the space to a scene-by-scene synopsis of what's going on. The director couldn't have made the play more accessible to a Shakespeare neophyte if he'd cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as Petruchio and Sinead O'Connor as Kate.
The printed synopsis isn't a bad idea. Shakespeare's language flows quickly, all the more so in the mouths of many of these actors, who seemed to be in a hurry to complete the show in time for the evening's "Saturday Night Live" rerun. Few took their time with the words, or slowed down to act them out. A notable exception was Robert M. Grant's rollicking and very physical portrayal of Grumio, the one servant (Petruchio's, he is) not played by a woman.
Other outstanding, or at least captivating, performances included those of the servants played by Toni Beery (disguising herself as her boss) and Pamela Canton, Gilbert's Senora Baptista, and of Jordan himself, who introduced Saturday night's performance, contributed a Hitchcockian walk-on in the first act, and reappeared toward the end of Act II to confuse already-confused matters further still, this time as the character Vincentio.
Several scenes are nicely staged, one of the most effective being Vincentio's confrontation with Wayne Tobin's Lucentio, Steve Horton's disguised Hortensio and Pepita Merayo's Bianca.
Intermission entertainment is supplied by the players, including a sextet of madrigal singers under the direction of Silbert and including Rebecca Hanes, who also sings during the course of the play.
* WHERE AND WHEN
"The Taming of the Shrew" continues Saturday at 7 p.m. at Borchard Park on Borchard Road in Thousand Oaks, Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Reyes Adobe on Reyes Adobe Road in Agoura Hills, and at various other locations on most Saturdays and Sundays until Aug. 18. Consult Ventura County Life theater listings Thursday for additional dates and times. For tickets and information, call (805) 499-4355.