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Friday, June 06, 2008

The Taming of the Shrew Reviewed

BY LARRY L. KUBERT / For the Lincoln Journal Star

Friday, Jun 06, 2008 - 12:09:36 am CDT

It’s sort of like William Shakespeare meets Sergio Leone meets situation comedy … with a little bit of The Cisco Kid thrown in for good measure. Such is the case with the Flatwater Shakespeare Company’s production of the Bard’s "The Taming of the Shrew" outdoors at the Swan Theatre at Wyuka Cemetery.

It should come as no great surprise that I view radical — in my opinion — adaptations of Shakespeare’s works with a wary eye. There have been far too many gypsy-based "Romeo & Juliets," or cowboy and Native "Othellos," or futuristic, outer space "Macbeths" that were just plain atrocious.

But there are times that adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays work like a snap. The Bob Hall-directed "Taming of the Shrew" — set in the American wild west — falls somewhere in between the good and the bad … but it certainly isn’t ugly. And in truth, the production rests much closer to the positive than the negative.

Hall has great insight and the marvelous talent to draw sterling performances from his casts. He also has the ability to cast really good actors, which is an immeasurable help in a theatrical presentation.

For those keeping score, the earlier Sergio Leone — the director of numerous spaghetti westerns filmed in Italy — comment is in reference to Hall adapting the play from Italy to the American West; the situation comedy refers to how very funny the Flatwater show is; and the Cisco Kid relates to the wonderful attire sported by actor Darin Hemmer as a Mexican Hortensio. If all this sounds incredibly outlandish — as well as a bit goofy — add in the atmospheric element of the play’s opening night performance on Thursday with the cast performing in a rain storm for the final 45 minutes of the 2½-hour production.

Anyone who knows the play would not expect "Shrew" to be a passive production. The Flatwater piece certainly doesn’t disappoint in that area — there are scuffles, falls, struggles, slaps, punches and climbing of the scenery. Nor are the confrontations between George Hansen’s crusty reprobate Petruchio and Melissa Lewis’ volatile Kate discreet little disagreements — try full-bore screaming matches that could shake rafters. The pair is two of Lincoln’s finest actors, and the fire and fury that they bring to "Shrew" is outstanding.

Supporting performances from the previously mentioned Hemmer as Hortensio, Rob Burt as Lucentio, Sean Schmeits as Tranio and Steve Gaines as Baptista provide a solid base for the play. Plus the wonderful Robie Hayek delivers a simply hilarious turn as Petruchio’s stereotypical Western sidekick Grumio.

Costumers Janice Stauffer and Jeanne Marlette deserve high tribute for coming up with stage attire for the entire cast that runs from sumptuous to ragged and threadbare. Where Richard Imig scrounged up the door and shingle-link boards to comprise the entrance to Baptista’s house may be a mystery, but with their peeling paint and ratty appearance, they perfectly say spaghetti western.

In some ways, the Flatwater production of "Taming of the Shrew" doesn’t even seem very Shakespeare-like. But it is also a very funny production performed by excellent actors that will have you laughing a great deal. Does the adaptation work? Maybe for some, maybe not for others. But I sure had an enjoyable time.