Shakespeare Orange County has realized Shakespeare's controversial "anti-feminist" tour de force without any critique, self-reflection or interpretive ingenuity that might make the play more palatable to a contemporary theatergoer. This is not a matter of fidelity to the Bard: director John Frederick Jones' The Taming of the Shrew includes a number of textual changes, the most important of which is the decision to cut the Induction—the first three scenes that set this up as a play within a play. In more progressive productions, the Induction is used to let the audience know that the theater company is wise to the chauvinism and to emphasize that the performance of gender and class roles in the play—and, by extension, those in the real world—are always just that: a performance.
Notwithstanding these problematic decisions, Jones delivers a play that captivates. Except for the addition of a distracting character seated onstage (presumably comparing the play's action with Shakespeare's text), Jones directs with efficacy, in both his staging and his meticulous guidance of the actors.
Especially impressive are the turbulent scenes in Petruchio's house, where fine performances (Carl Reggiardo as Petruchio, Elizabeth Taheri as Katherine, and Peter Westenhofer as Petruchio's servant Grumio) draw the audience into the delightfully offensive subjugation of Petruchio's new wife.
But overall, the acting is uneven, ranging from the expert and charismatic performances of Reggiardo and Michael Nehring as Old Grumio to the less skilled, sometimes phlegmatic performances of Alex Ferrill as Lucentio and April Wade as Lucentio's servant. This inconsistency is paralleled by the uneven design: the stunning Elizabethan-style costumes clash with the cheaply constructed and thus blasé simulacrum of the traditional, timber-framed Elizabethan set.
While Jones' production is not innovative or exceptional, it is a feisty dose of Shakespeare that engages and entertains.
taming of the shrew by Shakespeare Orange County at the Waltmar Theatre, Chapman University, 301 E. Palm, Orange, (714) 744-7016. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Through July 15. $24.