DANA POINT — Some call it anti-feminist. Most call it lusty, witty and well-crafted. Despite myriad modern protestations, there is definitely sexism in Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew."
But the play is a product of its ironic time: 16th-Century England, when women had few legal rights, were generally denied education or employment, and were considered to be the property of their husbands, who expected them to be thoroughly subservient; all this while a woman (Elizabeth, unmarried) ruled the nation.
Any woman who didn't live up to the era's expectations of silence and submissiveness, who dared to threaten male authority or show independence of mind, was labeled a shrew.
And so, Shakespeare gives us Katharina, who, in the course of five acts, is "tamed" by her aggressive, ambitious husband, Petruchio.
In some portrayals, Kate refuses to be tamed. Even in her final speech of subjugation, there is fire in her eyes; his wife may love and "obey" him, but we sense that Petruchio will probably not have an easy time of it.
In the South Orange County Community Theatre production of "The Taming of the Shrew," Nancy Jane Smeets tries to make her Kate a compromiser who, at the end, accepts rather than acquiesces. It's a valid theatrical choice, but it makes for a fairly controlled Kate from the outset.
We get the feeling, though, that this Petruchio (Roger Manning) could handle whatever she dishes out. He is brash and assertive at times, slyly sarcastic at others.
We're not given too strong a sense of Bianca (Carrie Pohlhammer), Kate's docile sister, but her most successful suitor, Lucentio (B. Aaron Cogan), seems eager and innocent.
The rest of the cast of 22 is pleasant, and the sex-switch of Biondello, Lucentio's servant, to Biondella (Jennifer MacLeod) works just fine. So does the incisive editing of the play; we lose some of the bawdy farce and the notion of a play-within-a-play, but this condensed version keeps the plot lines clear and would serve as an excellent introduction to the Bard. Bring the kids, the beach chairs and the picnic basket.
There are two outstanding elements in this production. First, there is the very natural, credible way the language is handled. Kudos to director Jane Hebson and dramaturge/voice and dialogue coach Edith M. Schwartz.
Second, there is the setting, which is ideal and idyllic. It makes you think of an Elizabethan greensward, with suggestively simple sets (designed by Jay Proskovec) and lighting (Michelle Evans), stately costumes (by Diane Lewis), and fiery torches to mark the theater space in the large field of Dana Point's Lantern Bay Park.
There's the sky above, the grass below, and the added bonus of an ocean backdrop. Hence the alliterative name of this 4-year-old summer venture by the South Orange County Community Theatre: Shakespeare by the Sea.
But some performances are disturbed by brassy competition from poolside productions at the Dana Point Resort next door. Last Thursday, it was cacophonous open-mike karaoke, and last Saturday, a reverberant concert by Louise Mandrell and friends.
Try making Shakespearean comic plot twists come together--explaining a series of couplings and disguises--with that background. It was a strain for actors and audience and marred an otherwise delightful evening.
\o7 * "The Taming of the Shrew," Shakespeare by the Sea, Lantern Bay Park, Street of the Park Lantern at Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 15. $10. (714) 489-8082. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. \f7 Bill Carden: Baptista
Nancy Jane Smeets: Katharina
Carrie Pohlhammer: Bianca
Roger Manning: Petruchio
Joseph Pierce: Vincentio
B. Aaron Cogan: Lucentio
Maximilian Mastrangelo: Tranio
Jennifer MacLeod: Biondella
Monte Collins: Gremio
Mario Lescot: Hortensio
K. Robert Eaton: Grumio
A production of South Orange County Community Theatre with special arrangement with the County of Orange Parks Department. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Jane Hebson. Dramaturge/Voice and Dialogue Coach: Edith M. Schwartz. Music Director: Ida Jo Gates. Sets: Jay Proskovec. Costumes: Diane Lewis. Lighting: Michelle Evans. Sound: K. Robert Eaton. Stage manager: David Contreras.