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A good team for 'Taming'

February 27, 2009|Philip Brandes;F. Kathleen Foley

Circus Theatricals lives up to its name with a carnival-themed look and feel for the lively revival of "The Taming of the Shrew" that marks the company's return to its former home at the Odyssey Theatre.

Set in a dreamlike Italy at the turn of the 20th century, this incarnation of William Shakespeare's classic battle-of-the-sexes romp features Jack Stehlin and Bridget Flanery as the sparring antagonists who wreak havoc on the conventions of courtship and marriage. As Petruchio, Stehlin (who also directed) is a scrappy trickster who delights in flaunting the expectations of others -- none more than his chosen bride, Katherine (a.k.a. Kate the Cursed). Fiery, redheaded Flanery grounds Kate's defiance in rebellious disdain for the rigid code that requires her as the eldest daughter to be married off before her more compliant sister (Katy Downing).

The production makes no apologies for the controversial "taming" that turns Kate from abrasive shrew to docile submissive -- an outcome sometimes criticized as misogynist. The play is an artifact of a time when relations between men and women were governed by very different rules and divisions of responsibility, and the performers here encourage viewers to enjoy it as such rather than judge it by modern sensibilities. Still, it would be helpful in this regard to show more of the ways the relationship changes Petruchio as well, taming some of the demons in his own restless spirit.

Kudos to the large supporting ensemble that renders the verse with notable precision and clarity, keeping the plot accessible and the comedy actually funny. Geoffrey Owens and Thomas Kopache merit special note for their hilarious servant-clowns.

High production values are courtesy of Victoria Profitt's bright-hued set, Nikki Delhomme's whimsical costumes and composer Roger Bellon's particularly inspired mood-enhancing incidental music.

-- Philip Brandes

"The Taming of the Shrew," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays (through March 18), 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (except March 22 and April 12 at 7 p.m.). Ends April 19. $25 to $30 (check theater for pay-what-you-can performances). (310) 477-2055 or www .circustheatricals.com. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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Dealing with the fallout from abuse

There's a line in the film "Parenthood" in which the abused teen played by Keanu Reeves comments, "You need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car -- hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any ... be a father."

Even with the profanity elided, that observation remains shatteringly apt. With the antics of octo-mom dominating the news, what constitutes a fit parent is the subject of much recent, passionate discussion. But all questions of eugenics and eccentricity aside, active abuse is the clearly defining line between a happy childhood and daily misery.

In her solo show "Bruising for Besos" at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre, Adelina Anthony intrepidly spans the divide. Anthony's protagonist, Yoli Villamontes, seen both in childhood and maturity, is keenly aware of the abyss created by her macho, abusive father, and she deplores the victimization of her poor, immigrant mother, who endures all for the sake of her children.

"Besos" is the first piece in Anthony's "The Xiqana Xronicles," a cycle inspired by the recent death of her mother. The action commences beside a desolate Texas highway, where Yoli has been stranded en route to see her ailing mom -- her first visit in 10 years. As otherworldly as a moonscape, the stark milieu, beautifully realized by set, sound and lighting designers Robert Selander, D'Lo and John Pedone, respectively, is a fittingly desolate setting for Yoli's painful journey into the past.

Anthony is a striking performer. Under the taut direction of Rose Marcario, she bristles with seductive, simmering rage. Yoli's childhood reminiscences sometimes seem generic. But Yoli's path to proud lesbianism is vividly charted as is Yoli's steamy, stormy relationship with her lover. Indeed, Anthony concocts such sizzling sexual chemistry with herself you forget there's only one person on stage.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Bruising for Besos," Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 15. $20. (323) 860-7300; www.lagay center.org/boxoffice. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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Wit flourishes in California desert

A rundown, male-only nudist motel in hot, dusty Palm Springs doesn't immediately spring to mind as the destination of choice for a nervous breakdown. But writer-director Michael Sargent makes a fairly credible case for it in "Grand Motel," his sharply written if somewhat indulgent new comedy at Hollywood's Unknown Theater.

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