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THEATER REVIEW

Frisky fun in the outdoors with `Taming of the Shrew'

The updated revival launches the summer season of Shakespeare Orange County.

July 14, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

The battle of the sexes rocks the Festival Amphitheatre in Garden Grove, where "The Taming of the Shrew" opens Shakespeare Orange County's summer season. Smartly directed by Carl Reggiardo, the Bard's vintage comedy receives a frisky outdoor staging, its staunch cast led by the stellar David Denman and Katie Amanda Keane.

Although this account of fortune-hunting Petruchio (Denman) and his conquest of vitriolic Katherine (Keane) verges on lowbrow farce of antiquated attitude, it certainly affords comic actors a zesty outlet.

Updating the action to post-World War II, director Reggiardo sends his company romping around designer Shing Yin Khor's sun-bleached set like players in an early Visconti film. We are in Padua, where Baptista (John-Frederick Jones) vows that Bianca (Stephanie Robinson), his docile younger daughter, will not marry until her foul-tempered sister does.

This launches a plot by Bianca's would-be husband Hortensio (Jeremy Schaeg) to find Katherine a mate. Neither he nor wealthy Gremio (Craig Brown) are prepared for Lucentio (John DiAntonio), who switches places with servant Tranio (Neil Moutrey) to woo Bianca. Nobody is ready for Petruchio.

As inventively played by Denman, familiar as Roy on television's "The Office," this swaggerer carries sensitivity beneath his cunning. His manhandling of Edgar Landa's elastic Grumio suggests the usual diabolical boor, until he lays eyes on Katherine. Hopelessly smitten, Petruchio's romantic objectives spur Denman's escalating antics.

Keane's delicious shrew meets him at every amorous, haymaking turn. Apparently jilted in her high-couture wedding gown (courtesy of costumer Kathryn Wilson), Katherine's vivid disappointment elicits audible audience sympathy. We are soon roaring again, as motorcycle-disheveled Petruchio arrives to hoist his horrified bride over his shoulder and up the aisle to Verona.

Their spontaneity, which reaches a touching capitulation, might instruct their colleagues, who are proficient but at times corseted by the slapstick business. Jones has spot-on timing, Joshua Snyder's wacky Biondello grabs the house, and Alyssa Bradac makes her Act 2 tailor an uproarious cameo. Elsewhere, it would be advisable to tune the production's pulse to audience reactions. There should be many opportunities to do so as this crowd-pleasing revival runs its madcap course.

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`The Taming of the Shrew'

Where: Festival Amphitheatre, 12740 Main St., Garden Grove

When: 8:15 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays

Ends: July 28

Price: $29

Contact: (714) 590-1575; or www.shakespeareoc.org

Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

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