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'Shrew's' Corset Is Showing

* Rude Guerrilla's cross-gender production tends to stumble.


Shakespeare's comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" has ruffled a lot of feminist feathers. It shouldn't. It's a play of its time, and it shows how an intelligent woman dealt with life in that milieu.

Modern directors try awfully hard to make it speak to today's sensibilities. A recent Shakespeare Orange County production achieved its point with Kate's hilarious realization of her power. The Rude Guerrilla production at the Empire Theater in Santa Ana, co-directed by Dave Barton and David Gallo, takes an entirely different tack.

It switches genders.

To the co-directors, that solves the problem. Women are more powerful. Men are weak. It's an interesting premise and a tantalizing concept. But it takes too long to become viable.


The use of the feminine pronouns for the very masculine Kate and Bianca, and the use of masculine pronouns for the very masculine Petruchio and Lucentio, misses the mark. The gender references should have been changed completely. A very masculine "Petruchia" taming a very violent "Kit" would have borne tastier fruit.

Fortunately, there is little cross-dressing in the production. Each gender usually stays within its limits.

The best moments are between Jay Michael Fraley's Kate and Susan E. Taylor's Petruchio. They have a grip on the directors' concept and click into its irony. The machito Bianca of Keith Bennett and the utterly delightful Lucentio of Rachel Davenport also fit within the concept. Davenport's dual role, as the ardent suitor and the randy tutor, point to a healthy career in the Bard's "britches" roles.

Also making the satire work well is Eric Eisenbrey as Petruchio's servant Grumio. Eisenbrey's comic sense is quiet but shrewd.


When the production doesn't work is when it trips and stumbles into camp and when it falls prey to excess. Matt Cook, as the servant Biondello, not only plays a cartoon character but also has that unprofessional trick of distracting the viewer from more important things happening onstage. He cleans his teeth--and his nose--with a ferreting forefinger, and is nowhere near the reality this concept begs for. Jeff Marx, in numerous roles, is just as guilty. So is Scott Caster as the phony Lucentio, in drag, looking very much like a man in drag, but effective as Tranio when he's out of drag.

Cathy Petz, who has been seen to better advantage in other Rude Guerrilla productions, just looks foolish in an Elvis wig, and shouts her lines with no consideration for Shakespeare's lucid humor.


"The Taming of the Shrew," Empire Theatre, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Aug. 20. $10-$12. (714) 547-4688. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Jay Michael Fraley: Kate

Susan E. Taylor: Petruchio

Rachel Davenport: Lucentio

Eric Eisenbrey: Grumio

Keith Bennett: Bianca

Scott Caster: Tranio

Cathy Petz: Hortensio

Matt Cook: Biondello

Jeff Marx: Servant/Priest/Tailor/Merchant/Widow

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