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Laughs Are a 'Shrew!' Thing : Play Falters Only in Nodding to the Bard

June 27, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GARDEN GROVE — At intermission recently during Grove Theater Center's production of "Shrew!" in their outdoor Festival Amphitheatre, a woman was overheard saying, "And I thought we were going to see an ordinary production of 'Taming of the Shrew.' I didn't expect this. I fell out of my seat laughing."

Anyone old enough to remember Olsen and Johnson's "Hellzapoppin' " will know what she means. The tone is the same, and there's the same sense of abandoned lunacy on the stage.

Before the show, Sonny (Phillip MacNiven), in milk-blue tails with white socks, fills time at a jingly upright piano, with lyrical puns and chatter, and making several "toasts" in the toaster-oven atop the piano, and tossing them into the audience.

Sonny's job is to delay the show because the Troubadour Theater Company, which is presenting the production, has been held up following a matinee performance in Barstow. Once they do arrive, it's like commedia dell'arte on speed.

Director Matthew Walker, one of the funniest young actors in these parts, and his company, have not "adapted" Shakespeare's comedy so much as they have utterly destroyed it. The result is an astounding and exhausting evening of helpless laughter.

That isn't to say there aren't a few problems, and a few dull spots. These occur concurrently when Walker reverts to what's left of the original play. His inventiveness takes a rest at these moments, and one wonders why the compulsion to bow reverently to the Bard overshadowed that glee in shattering his work. That's what makes something special of the rest of the evening.

*

This is the sort of comic jumble that makes it generally immaterial who plays which role, since many members of the company double anyway.

But there are a few who rise above the raucous free-for-all for special moments.

Walker himself plays Grumio and acts as general lion tamer. He's funny, kinetic and irreverent. Rachael Wolfe is a street urchin of a Kate, called Kat in the program, and she's as nasty as can be, but her flashing smile hints at the wise woman underneath.

Her sister Bianca (Binoca in the program), is the attractively shaven-headed Michelle Johnson, who has much funny shtick with a multitude of wigs that have a habit of flying off at any moment.

Briant Wells makes it obvious that he is poking much fun at his super-macho Petruchio, even to his pride in the ersatz-cowboy costume that he wears to his wedding with Kate.

Larry Poindexter, handsome and stalwart as Bianca's suitor Lucentio, becomes highly campy and discreetly swishy when disguised as Bianca's tutor, Cambio, which leads Sonny at the piano to intimate that he is gay. Poindexter's deadpan, very serious, explanation to the audience that he is not gay gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening.

Tim Groff has many fine moments as Lucentio's servant Tranio, and Evan Arnold's cigar-smoking, Little Italy Hortensio also shines, even in drag when he eagerly weds Gremio (a shticky but able performance by Michael Sulprizio).

That odd match is just another hatchet in Shakespeare's fabric, which indicate that the times Walker gets serious in his respect to the story are, as the Bard put it, out of joint.

"Shrew!"

Evan Arnold: Hortensio

Tim Groff: Tranio

Michelle Johnson: Binoca

Larry Poindexter: Lucentio

Michael Sulprizio: Gremio

Matthew Walker: Grumio

Briant Wells: Petruchio

Rachael Wolfe: Kat

Phillip MacNiven: Sonny

A Grove Theater Center production of Matthew Walker's irreverent adaptation of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew," produced by Charles L. Johanson. Directed by Matthew Walker. Lighting design: David Darwin. Stage manager: Goli Samimi. Running time: 2 hours.

* What: "Shrew!"

* When: 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Ends June 30.

* Where: Festival Amphitheatre, Grove Theater Center, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove.

* Whereabouts: Exit the Garden Grove (22) Freeway at Euclid and drive north to Acacia Parkway, then turn left. Theater parking on either side of the street just east of Main Street. The theater is just north of Main.

* Wherewithal: $14.50-$24.50.

* Where to call: (714) 741-9550.

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