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STAGE REVIEW : Novel Twist in Casting of 'Shrew' : Dwarf Stevie Lee Richardson is a fine Petruchio. But Shakespeare L.A.'s production as a whole is weak.

August 14, 1992|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

A very interesting bit of non-traditional casting highlights Shakespeare L.A.'s production of "The Taming of the Shrew" visiting the Richard Basehart Playhouse. While Katharina is played by an average-sized woman (Melanie Pleasure), her Petruchio is played by Stevie Lee Richardson, a dwarf.

Under Geoffrey G. Forward's direction, Richardson's size is used for humor throughout the production, his face just at the level of Kate's bosom, his grandly swinging riding crop the right height to engage sensitive areas of several male actors' bodies, both gags Elizabethan-bawdy and correct. When Kate, in anger, picks him up like a basketball and slam dunks him to the stage, Richardson seems to be enjoying the gag as much as the audience does.

Richardson's performance makes him seem much taller than some of his supporting cast. If Richardson swallows some of his consonants, his grasp of the Bard's dialogue is lively, and his physicality keeps the stage alive. Melanie Pleasure's Kate is inclined to screech when angry at Petruchio, but when she settles down in the final scenes her readings are clear, strong and effective.

The rest of the cast ranges from inept (Todd Brun's Tailor thinks being battered around on stage is funny) to acceptable (Darrell Sandeen's Baptista speaks the lines well but seems lifeless). The best all-around performance is by Jim Cox as Grumio, Petruchio's servant. This Grumio revels in high-flying, randy delight.

Forward's direction suffers from generally careless casting and not a forceful enough hand once cast. However, for once non-traditional casting in the leads (Kate is played by an African-American) works, but the production doesn't.

This "Shrew" will move to Freeman Chapel, Pasadena Presbyterian Church, for a Sept. 4 to 26 run.

Where and When

What: "The Taming of the Shrew."

Where: Richard Basehart Playhouse, 21028-B Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays. Ends Aug. 27.

Price: $12.

Call: (818) 704-1845.

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