"The Taming of the Shrew" by William Shakespeare at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, San Rafael CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Photo of Darren Bridgett (left) and Cat Thompson by Morgan Cowin

Marin Shakespeare Company’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew” at the lovely outdoor venue Forest Meadows Amphitheatre is a highly creative and hilariously irreverent adaptation of Shakespeare’s ultimate battle of the sexes. Instead of traditional Padua we find ourselves on a Caribbean Island complete with pirates. The usual swashes are buckled with fancy footwork and countless zany touches that keep the audience roaring with laughter.

The play opens with two worlds on display: the landed gentry with all their finery, and the pirates with all their boots and bravado. A large pirate ship sits upstage looming over the proceedings. You can tell there’s fun in store - at their very first meeting, pirate Petruchio (Darren Bridgett) and his angry amour-in-training Katharina (Cat Thompson) duke it out with wordplay and swordplay in a rough-and-ready duel worthy of Douglas Fairbanks.

The sparks keep flying between Bridgett and Thompson, whose chemistry electrifies the production. Bridgett’s Petruchio spends perhaps a little too much time in his cups resulting in unintelligible lines. He nonetheless proves irresistible, to Kate and to the audience, a roughneck with a heart of gold. But who’s the Shrew he’s trying to tame? After all, his servant remarked of him, “He is more shrew than she.” Cat Thompson as the feisty Kate is wonderful in her role and a joy to watch. Thompson’s Kate ends the play a true companion to Petruchio, her fiery spirit unbroken, living for a purpose she fully embraces. Thompson needs only to kick it up a notch, especially in her final speech to the other wives. Emphasis and conviction are needed most during this critical scene.

William Elsman as Lucentio, who fervently hopes to marry Kate’s winsome sister Bianca, brings a goofy, foppish charm to his role. Alexandra Matthews as Bianca has a challenging part she plays incredibly well: the more favored of the two sisters who’s also frustrated at playing second fiddle to the explosive Kate. The rest of the cast, most notably Stephen Klum as the girls’ father Baptista, Mark Robinson as Lucentio’s manservant Tranio, and Lucas McClure as Petruchio’s sidekick, all display their excellent Shakespearean comic chops to superb effect. Supporting player Melissa Arleth received special applause. In her role as Biondello, she appears onstage on stilts or twirling hula-hoops at unexpected moments, amid bursts of harp music and the theme from “Jaws”. All of these gambits are skillfully applied and lend a madcap air. Gary Grossman as the peg-legged “Christopher Sly, an old tar” sets the stage for us in the opening scene, and also masquerades as Lucentio’s father later on.

Extra effort went into the production, design and staging. Director Robert Currier set his imagination free and seemed to have as much fun as his actors. The dazzling costumes were specially designed and custom-fit to the performers by Abra Berman. Fight Director Brian Herndon helped bring about the realistic-looking swordfights (and maybe coordinated some of the pirates’ artfully drunken stumbling). Choreographer Cynthia Pepper created the wonderful movement and dance sequences that are an integral part of the show.

And what a show it is! In spite of several first-act slow spots that may come out in the wash, Currier’s “Shrew” marks a giddy and glorious deviation from the Bard’s hallowed words, a bawdy “Pirates of the Caribbean” vacation without even leaving Marin.

When: Performances July 24 to September 26, 2010
8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays; 4 p.m. & 5 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $20 to $35
Location: Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University of California
1475 Grand Avenue, San Rafael CA
Phone: 415-499-4488
Website: www.marinshakespeare.org