Scholars have argued for centuries as to when, or even whether, Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew. What's not in doubt is that John Fletcher, Shakespeare's successor as house playwright for the King's Men, wrote The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed, as a sequel. This piece, completed in the early 17th century, tells the story of Petruchio's second marriage, in which his new wife turns the tables and works to tame him. It is these two concepts — who is the tamer and who the tamed — that director Peggy Metzger has successfully brought together in her adaptation of the original, The Taming of the Shrew(s).
To create a manageable production in the Redwood Curtain Theatre's seriously restricted space, all but the principal players take on multiple parts. For the most part, this does not interfere with the flow of the action; indeed, since certain conceits of the play require that some characters adopt other characters' personas, it's not unexpected that appearances change from time to time.
The action begins with the arrival in Padua of Lucentio (Charlie Heinberg) and his servant Tranio (Greta Turney). The two overhear Baptista (Gary Sommers) declare to the two suitors for his younger daughter's hand, Hortensio (Gary Bowman) and Gremio (Bradley Harrington), that his elder daughter must be married off first. Lucentio is smitten at his first glimpse of younger daughter Bianca (Jessi Shieman), and we get our first taste of elder daughter Katharina (Natasha White) in all her shrewish glory.
Fortunately for all those in line for Bianca's hand, the out-of-town and newly rich Petruchio (James Hitchcock) arrives in Padua with his servant Grumio (Shieman) and is in need of a wife. And thus begins the plotting among the suitors to marry Katharina off to Petruchio as soon as possible, and to get closer to the lovely Bianca. Of course, not every suitor can marry Bianca, so other happy endings are also in order.
Natasha White dominates the stage, first with her tantrums and later with her sly asides as she draw us into her subtle games. The pleasure she draws from tweaking her husband's increasingly aggressive efforts to tame her is palpable. The visible tattoo on her arm is a minor and unnecessary distraction from her wonderfully expressive face; a longer-sleeved top would easily take care of this. James Hitchcock is an experienced and effective interpreter of Shakespearean characters and his strutting, arrogant, yet calculating Petruchio is no exception, treading a fine line between attractive husband material and spoiled-child peevishness.
Jessi Shieman shifts skillfully between her two primary roles as Bianca, who understands her sister all too well, and as Petruchio's servant Grumio, an astute observer of his master's foibles and quarrelsome nature. Charlie Heinberg turns in a strong performance as Lucentio, both earnest and over-the-top in his wooing of Bianca, and a laugh-out-loud comical turn as a random pedant pressed into service as a stand-in for his own father, Vincentio.
Gary Sommers, usually a strong performer, does not seem as engaged as he could be in the role of Baptista, father of Bianca and Katharina, although his performance as Katharina's frustrated tailor is spot on, as is his campy, gossipy Curtis. Bradley Harrington's Gremio is mild-mannered and unassertive in his quest for Bianca's hand; his performance in this role is largely indistinguishable from his other characters, the hatmaker and Biondello, servant to Lucentio.
Gary Bowman deploys an impressive range of facial expressions as the lovelorn suitor Hortensio — particularly when it comes to teaching the lute (or uke!) to Bianca — and as the real and rather confused Vincentio. Rounding out the cast is Greta Turney as Tranio, a widow, and a couple of other smaller servant roles, all of which she plays in variations of a bizarre Igor-in-Young-Frankenstein style, complete with off-balance walk and exaggerated facial gestures. It's a memorable performance but could be toned down a little and varied according to character.
Thanks to smart costume design by Bethany Lamoureux, the multiple roles mostly work well but with an overabundance of beiges and browns, some are too similar for the audience to immediately discern which role the actor is inhabiting. Petruchio's wedding outfit, on the other hand, is wonderfully bizarre. The rest of the backstage crew — Jared Sorenson (scenic design), Michael Burkhart (lighting), Jon Turney (sound), Craig Benson (fight choreography) and Yvette Faust (stage management) — deliver a uniformly well-executed production.
The Taming of the Shrew(s) is a nuanced interpretation of a familiar story — an entertaining experience verging on satire, challenging the audience to determine who, when all's said and done, is taming whom.
The Taming of the Shrew(s) continues at Redwood Curtain Theatre through Nov. 19. Call 443-7688 or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com.
The Secret Life of Spantsa returns to the Carlo Theatre on Friday, Nov. 4 and Saturday, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. with Zuzka Sabada's one-woman performance as Olive Oatman, the first tattooed white woman in America. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.
North Coast Repertory Theatre brings Agatha Christie's whodunit The Hollow to the stage Nov. 23 through Dec. 10. Crumbling mansion? Check. Bitter grudges? Check. Murder at the family reunion? Check. Call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.