Somebody call an anger-management counselor.
Because Kate, the ever-eligible (but woefully unapproachable) bachelorette who gives Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew its title, is in need of some chill pills in Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s production of that comedy, which opened Friday at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. The production is part of the Stolen Shakespeare Festival: The Battle of the Sexes, which will see this work presented in repertory with The Tamer Tamed, a sequel to Shrew written by Shakespeare contemporary John Fletcher.
But Katherine, played by Felicia Bertch, is not really mean. She’s just written that way. And besides, as the title gives away, she is a lot less hateful by the time the final curtain falls.
This production, directed by company founders Jason and Lauren Morgan, has many of the hallmarks of this troupe’s best efforts concerning the playwright who gave it its name. It breathes fresh life into this ancient work by treating it like a piece of entertainment (not a museum display), employs a lot of physical comedy and never misses an opportunity to snag a laugh, be it cheap or otherwise.
The most outstanding single component in this production is Robert Gemaehlich, in the role of the foolishly brave suitor, Petruchio, who travels from Verona to marry for money in Padua. Kate is the best available catch there, at least from a financial standpoint. So Petruchio sets his sights on her and thereby hangs our comedy.
There is a parallel plotline involving Kate’s sister, Bianca (Shannon Garcia), and her suitor, Lucentio (Nathan Dibben), but the volatile and often physically violent wooing of Kate is pretty much the whole show with this play.
Gemaehlich, who is making his debut with SSG in this production, plays Petruchio with an incredibly natural ease. His dialogue spins out like contemporary conversation, not opaque Elizabethan poetry. Seeing him in this classic work makes you look forward to how good he could be in a more contemporary role.
Bertch, who is also joining in the fun at SSG for the first time, is a strong-willed Kate, and her performance especially blossoms in the second act, when she is able to show her range. But her work in the opening act is played on the same shrill note too much of the time. She would be a lot more effective if the Morgans had coaxed a more measured approach from her.
There is also plenty of solid work among the supporting players. Garcia’s Bianca is as charming as her sibling is horrible. Dibben displays the same level of comfort with the material as Gemaehlich. Francis Henry, as the girls’ father, Baptista, and Andrew Manning, as Petruchio’s pal Hortensio, also provide some quality support.
It is no surprise that the costumes by Lauren Morgan are first-rate. She usually does the costumes for SSG productions, and her work in that area just gets better with each show. But we do not usually see her credited with scenic design, as she is in this production. The set she has created for the festival’s pair of shows is as impressive and serviceable as her costumes.
Overall, the production goes for laughs with a breezy pace and damn-the-torpedoes approach to the text. Not all of the acting is stellar in this all-amateur production, but it is earnest. The Morgans deserve kudos for bringing this show in at a tidy two hours.
Still, there is a price to be paid for paring down this comedy to a length that is more suitable for modern audiences. Kate’s transition feels a bit hasty, and some shortcuts are taken in the staging.
For example, when Kate and Petruchio arrive at the latter’s home after a grueling journey filled with wind, rain and mud, they are as clean as when they left their wedding altar, simply because this production does not have time for the costume changes it would take to make that moment more visually accurate.
Yet this production does retain all of the rage and laughter Shakespeare wrote into it, and it presents those elements in the no-frills, user-friendly fashion that makes this company such a joy to have among our mix of theaters.
The Taming of the Shrew