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THEATER REVIEW : 'Shrew' Carries Big Schtick : The comedy succeeds in Excalibur's take on Shakespeare's play. Kate is fresh and flip. But Petruchio is much ado about nothing.

August 05, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times

STUDIO CITY — The Excalibur Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," at the Lionstar Theatre, isn't the first time the play has been treated as commedia dell'arte. It's an obvious choice because of the simplicity of the plot, the colorful flights of humor and the play's tendency to poke fun at itself.

Director Thomas W. Ashworth's decision to make some of the action and dialogue slightly anachronistic and to give most of the characters masks has also been done before. When Petruchio meets the aging Vincentio while taking his newly tamed Kate back to Padua for a visit, calling their broom-handle horses Rameses and Trojan gets its laughs.

So do Petruchio's servants, spinning and colliding like Keystone Cops. So do the many bits of vaudeville shtick that Ashworth has tossed in with abandon.

But the core of any production of the play rests solely on its Kate and its Petruchio.

This staging's Kate, Tally Briggs, is intriguingly volatile in a modern mode, fresh and flip, a Valley virago who easily maneuvers the lady's gradual domestication without the subservience that usually upsets feminists.

Briggs' Kate delivers her final speech on a wife's duty with a solid sense that she's still boss, though working in the system of her time.

*

Carl J. Pfeifer's Petruchio is properly brash and grinning, as swashbuckling as any, but he doesn't seem to have found a center for his characterization. Maybe it's his habit of checking out the audience every once in a while that breaks his concentration.

Maybe it's an idea that male swagger is enough. The result is a Petruchio that is much ado about nothing.

The supporting actors are successful in ratio to their understanding of Ashworth's commedia concept, and their ability to amplify it. Ashworth himself is best at this in his performance as the deceptive Tranio, now grand above his station as Lucentio's servant, now camp when disguised as his master and entreating for the hand of Kate's sister Bianca.

Daniel Leslie's Grumio, servant to Petruchio, is a solid piece of comic acting, but Leslie could multiply his effects somewhat without overstepping his director's framework.

Kelie McIver's Bianca is very strong, not as meek as often played, but obviously Kate's sister with a smoother edge, and Archie Lee Simpson's father, Baptista, stands out for his ability to make the verse sound as though it has never been spoken before, and a comic flair that is subtle but true.

Played out commedia style on a bare stage, this "Shrew" is pleasant to look at because of A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's splashy and attractive costumes, and in spite of the conceit of Sugano's masks, which neither hinder nor help the production.

Where and When

What: "The Taming of the Shrew."

Location: Lionstar Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 11.

Price: $14.

Call: (310) 289-8515.

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