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‘Taming of the Shrew’ at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Be prepared to wrangle up a tempest in the form of a lady, that is, as Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents the second half of its rotating repertory outdoor summer series at the Patapsco Female Institute. Taming of the Shrew, running with Antony & Cleopatra, brings one of the Bard’s more amusing comedies of disguises and love to the stage under the keen direction of the company’s Founding Artistic Director, Ian Gallanar. With Scott Farquhar plugging in a few choice songs to highlight the emotions and motifs of the production, this show becomes a venture into chaotic hilarity as 8 principle actors take on multiple roles throughout the play presenting a new way of looking at disguised identities.

Molly Moores (Kate) and Jose Guzman (Petruchio). Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Molly Moores (Kate) and Jose Guzman (Petruchio). Photo by Teresa Castracane.

With a hint of a tropical good time infused into the costumes, designed by Kristina Lambdin, this production’s main focal point is character development. Director Ian Gallanar brings a talented bunch of company members together and puts them through their paces when it comes to making distinctive choices to boldly distinguish one servant from the next. Physical presence as well as gestures, movement patterns, and vocal choices are crucial elements to making this swap-happy production a success. Gallanar ensures that each actor playing multiple characters does so in such an efficient and discerned manner that there is no confusion when identifying who is who.

Gallanar also succeeds in directing his cast to expressive heights. While there are no lengthy dramatic monologues in this comedy of the Bard’s, it is still equally important that the major concepts, emotions, and ideas of the show translate to the audience in the event that the audience is not familiar with the Shakespearean vernacular. And Gallanar’s cast does that impeccably, even engaging the young children of the audience in the spectacle upon the stage.

There are brilliant infusions of slapstick comedy, directly inspired from the style of The 3 Stooges, tangled into the various scenes, designed by Fight Choreographer James Jager. The scene just before the wedding near the end of Act I is loaded with these shenanigans, and they are easily identifiable, so much so you’re almost listening for the sound effects associated with the stooges. Jager has tight clean fight scenes, even if they are laid out with intentional comic slights, making them hilariously believable in an over-the-top funny fashion.

The only two performers who don’t find themselves doubling up are the play’s main couple, Petruchio (Jose Guzman) and Kate (Molly Moores). The pair are the epitome of volatile, even if Guzman is soft spoken and impossible to hear through the better part of Act II. (The one flaw in this otherwise perfect production). Guzman enters the scene in a manner most grandiose, fog and music included, and just lets his confident arrogance reign from there. His haughty mannerisms are well reflected in his upright posture and waspish tongue that waggles right back at Kate, trading insults and building a biting banter with ease.

Moores, as the indefatigably furious Kate, is a true terror in dress. Her sharp tongue delivers stings with the fortitude of an atom bomb. And her presence on the stage is a notch above commanding, a physical fortress of rogue anger that cannot be contained by any mere man. Watching Moores soften around the edges as Petruchio breaks her, however, is a stunning transformation for she never truly loses that burning fire at the core of her character. But by the end of the production she’s transformed that fierce energy into a tamed version of herself, mild in speech and physical stature, but still bubbling wildly inside.

Bianca (Lauren M. Davis) is the easily wooed swooning younger daughter of Baptista (Frank B. Moorman). Davis, who showcases her singing talents at the close of intermission, is the epitome of a whiny princess waiting for love. Even Davis gets to double up in this production as a surprise gender-swapped character toward the end of the show, giving us a taste of how she handles the two characters.

Taking up dual roles as first a suitor to Bianca by name of Hortensio and then as Vincentio father to Lucentio, Greg Burgess gives the audience a good laugh. His woebegone retelling of the wedding is laughable as are his amorous sneaking about footfalls when trying to woe Bianca as Hortensio in guise as a tutor. Burgess distinguishes that lovesick character from his much more senile Vincentio with a mincing shuffle of a walk and enormous pauses in his speech patterns giving us two very distinctive old men. Burgess also leads the cast in singing “Lime in the Coconut” at the top of Act II, a suitable hangover song considering the drunken debauchery of the wedding prior to intermission.

Servants and masters and servants; the game long played in many of the Bard’s great works, and this production is no exception. Tranio (Matthew Ancarrow) who starts out as a servant is quickly forced to pose as his master (by his master) in order to carry out a devious plot to win over Bianca. Ancarrow plays not only the servant posing as the master, but later plays an actual servant, to another servant, who was previously playing his master. It sounds confusing but they keep it straight. Ancarrow uses his vocal distinctions, fluctuating between higher and lower pitches to distinguish his characters best.

Taking on one of the more comic roles in this production is Vince Eisenson as Gremio, the other old suitor for Bianca. Eisenson is channeling a great deal of comic spirits in his presence, giving a voice that sounds a little like Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, and a physical shtick that reminds us of the doddering old gentlemen of days gone by. The limp that he incorporates into his aged character makes him stand out all the more, full commitment keeping this character lively in every scene. Doubling up as the agitated tailor late in Act II he gets  a chance to slide out of the old man and into an indignant young fellow, a smooth transition before he quickly switches back.

The master of the guises, playing both master, and servant, then master disguised as servant as tutor, is James Jager. Taking on the well distinguished roles of Lucentio, and then Grumio, often in extremely tight turn arounds, Jager creates unique characters that keep the audience rolling with laughter and rooting for him to succeed with Bianca. Appearing first as Lucentio, his voice is boisterous, his spirits eager as he sets his eyes on the prize. His youthful love-struck notions guide this character to surefire success. It’s Jager’s approach to Grumio that really keeps the audience in stitches. Living up to the stereotype of the perpetually hungry servant, Jager is constantly sneaking out into the audience stealing food from audience members! It’s quite the riot! With limbs akimbo and a gravelly voice to juxtapose the sweet innocent tones of Lucentio, he creates quite the comic character in the servant to Petruchio. And as if two characters weren’t enough, Jager also plays the doting scholar ‘Cambio’ and also Petruchio’s horse, some of his finest character acting to boot.

Jose Guzman (Petruchio) and James Jage (Grumio). Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Jose Guzman (Petruchio) and James Jage (Grumio). Photo by Teresa Castracane.

There’s good fun to be had at Taming of the Shrew for all ages. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

Taming of the Shrew plays in rotating repertory through August 4, 2013 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company at The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park— 3655 Church Road in Ellicott City, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 331-8661, or purchase them online.

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