Photo by Steve MayedaThe Taming of the Shrew is one of the Bard's simpler plots, but that simplicity hasn't prevented a legion of directors from concepting the thing to death. In Russ Marchand's hands, this Insurgo Theater Movement production is decidedly low concept. It's Shakespeare via commedia dell'arte, filtered through Laugh Inand kicked in the balls by Ringling Brothers. The result is a Shrewthat doesn't bother with politics or a message of any kind. It also happens to be one of the funniest offerings on a local stage in a long time.
As stated, Shrew's plot is, for Shakespeare, greatly uncomplicated. Half the world is in love with the sweet and beautiful Bianca, but she can't be wed unless her older sister, Kate, the eponymous shrew, is married off first. After the requisite costume swapping and mistaken identities, Kate is wed to the equally socially inept Petruchio and Bianca to the handsome young Lucentio, and everyone goes home happy.
What truly shines in this production, jokingly touted by director Marchand in the program as the single greatest in history, is the frenetic pace and utter absurdity taking place. Purists beware: this show will undoubtedly give you an embolism.
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Marchand plays hell with the script, adding and deleting with abandon, but he stays very true to Shakespeare's devotion to his groundlings. There are rubber chickens and pies in the face, and everyone falls down at least once during the show.
You have to admire the stamina and endurance of the cast, which is put through a rigorous physical and vocal workout. Of particular note are Justin Walvoord's insanely physical Grumio and Kimberly Fisher's screaming bitch of a Kate. Two problems with the production: first, the constant shouting among most of the cast causes a good deal of Shakespeare's words, including some of his wittiest banter, to be completely lost. Second, some of the actors stumble over the language in order to keep up the breakneck pace.
Nevertheless, Marchand has given us something to laugh about—a delightfully un-postmodern Shrew that, through its abandonment of trying to force a point down the audience's throat, reminds us what a raucously funny show Shakespeare wrote.
The Taming of the Shrew at Hunger Artists Theater, 699 S. State College Blvd., Ste. A, Fullerton, (714) 680-6803; www.hungerartists.com. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Thru Jan. 26. $10-$12.