In Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” the indelible Kate and Petruchio—a feisty, ferocious fiancé and her would-be “tamer”—together discover something truly amazing and surprising. They discover that even after 400 years, people will see a show about two people fighting with each other until they finally fall in love.
Kate and Petruchio are amongst the most famous characters in western theatrical literature, and despite the datedness of the play, and the imbedded minefield of gender issues that are always part of the process of staging the show for modern audiences; people keep coming to see it.
Why? Why not?
The politics of love are not easy today, so why not look at a time when they were even more complex, and see if maybe we’ve learned anything. Besides, part of the pleasure of sitting down to a fresh production of such a well-known play is seeing if the cast, crew, and director will make it somehow seem new, or unpredictable, or surprising—or maybe fail miserably in the attempt.
That’s always a possibility.
I am happy to report that in Curtain Theatre’s rollicking outdoor production—free to the public and running weekends in the Old Mill Park in Mill Valley—the only real failure on display were those few unhappy audience members who failed to bring a sweater or coat, and were visibly shivering in the second act when the Mill Valley fog began rolling in.
As for the production itself, it’s a blast.
There are plenty of fresh ideas, uniformly strong performances, a boatload of clever theatrical flourishes, and a few moments of true genius. The fluid, fast-paced direction by Carl Jordan—here tackling Shakespeare for his first time—results in a buoyant, bouncy fluff-ball of a play, with a stunningly high laugh-to-minute ratio, and gallons of charm and visual razzle-dazzle
The setting and basic attire of the production are fairly traditional, with a live band playing renaissance tunes before the show, but director Jordan lets us know early on that he will be taking a decidedly playful tone with the material, beginning with an original pop-rock-inspired tune that essentially stands as a prologue. In this production, people do tend to burst into song, tossing out snippets of popular rock songs, a few lovely originals by music director Don Clark, and one hilariously heartbreaking rendition of A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.
Kate—a splendidly three-dimensional Melissa Claire—makes her initial appearance wielding a chainsaw, stalking across the stage while belting out the lyrics of George Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone. Petruchio—played by an excellent Alan Coyne—is not the brutish bully he is often depicted as, but a goofy sweetheart with a giddy knack for improvisational madness, and questionable taste in codpieces.
The marvelous ensemble is too large to give proper credit to all, but notable standouts include a brilliant Heather Cherry as Petruchio’s frazzled servant Grumio, Tom Reilly as Kate’s gracefully befuddled father, Juliana Lustenader as Kate’s shallow-but-winsome sister, Steve Beecroft as the crafty servant Tranio, and an amiably silly Seth Dahlgren as Hortensio, a wildly persistent suitor to Bianca.
And … did I mention the show is free?
After 16 years, Curtain Theatre is still managing to exist solely on the donations audiences happily drop in the baskets at the end of the show.
And trust me—this one is well worth paying to see.
‘Taming of the Shrew’ runs Saturdays, Sundays and Labor Day, through Sept. 13, at Old Mill Park Amphitheater in Mill Valley.
All shows 2:00 p.m. Free.