`Taming of the Shrew' takes delightful '50s turn

Review

Howard Live

July 08, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, Shakespeare has been transported to the 1950s, where he seems at home amid City Dock's contemporary sounds of revving motors and occasional siren blasts. The Bard gains accessibility in this informal outdoor setting.

Before The Taming of the Shrew begins, director Barry Genderson transports the audience back to the 1950s with such vintage recordings as Mario Lanza's "Be My Love," Rosemary Clooney's "Botch-A-Me" and Dean Martin's "That's Amore."

The music enhances appreciation of the striking set, easily the best I've seen at Summer Garden and inspired by Genderson's fascination with surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico. Filled with colorful arches that add depth, the updated de Chirico set - complete with a distant train - is the work of set designer and scenic artist Lynne Wilson, who makes a memorable Summer Garden debut.

Genderson starts Shrew with the characters arriving from the back of the theater through the audience entrance, lending naturalness and spontaneity from the outset. The audience is drawn into the action as the drunken Christopher Sly, played by Jim Gunning, arrives accompanied by a group of noblemen, who trick Sly into believing that he is a lord.

Gunning adds to the merriment as Petruchio's servant Grumio and later as Vincentio. As a most lordly lord, Summer Garden newcomer Bryan Richard Deehring gracefully commands the opening scene.

When the actors appear on stage, they evoke the 1950s so well that it seems like a Fellini film. Bolstering the illusion is Larry Richman, who, in dark glasses and wearing a handsome pale suit, looks very much the rich Italian daddy Baptista as he deals with daughter Bianca's suitors. Older suitor Gremio is played with panache by Greg Coale, as is suitor Hortensio by Michael Rogers.

Daniel Lavanga is well-cast as young student Lucentio, who is instantly smitten with Bianca and disguises himself in the clothes of his servant Trania (Beth Terranova) to become Bianca's tutor Cambio. Still, all of Bianca's suitors must wait until a husband can be found for Baptista's older and difficult daughter, Katherine (Maud Gleason).

When Petruchio arrives in search of a wife with a large dowry, he decides to court Katherine. Jeffrey Miller's performance as Petruchio is filled with bravado, vigor, humor, brashness, disarming unpredictability and warmth. Miller's mellifluous voice and flawless diction add distinction to his characterization, as does his rapport with Katherine.

As Katherine, trained Shakespearean actress Gleason is the perfect match for Miller's Petruchio. Gleason seems to relish playing the fearsome Katherine, investing energy and formidable athleticism in her scenes. But Gleason's is a full-dimensional portrayal that later conveys Katherine's shrewd intelligence in adjusting to her husband's mistreatment, which includes food and sleep deprivation and no access to suitable clothing. Gleason conveys vast dignity and wisdom in the famous scene admonishing wives to be submissive.

With its borderline spousal abuse, Shakespeare's plot has long offended feminists, but in this production, Petruchio's taming of Katherine seems less bothersome because of the protagonists' exceptional acting skills and their ability to convey underlying affection and humor.

Lesley Miller is as fair and sweet a Bianca as is likely to be found. She makes the role her own, investing Bianca with wit, good humor, charm and grace.

Other supporting players contribute to the success of this production, making it among the finest Summer Garden Shakespeare offerings. Also contributing to the production are the great costumes designed by Nikki Gerbasi.

The Taming of the Shrew runs at Annapolis Summer Garden Thursdays through Saturdays through July 31. Reservations: 410-268-9212.

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