Shakespeare, Me, and a Beautiful Shrew
You might say I’m addicted. Or obsessed. Or passionate. Some would say I am an English major at heart, others recommend I go live in Stratford-upon-Avon. (I’d much rather live in Ashland, Oregon, thank you very much!) I think I merely have a fondness for Shakespeare.
In reality, though, I’m kind of a Shakespeare snob: many of the shows I’ve seen have been at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Seeing as OSF is considered one of the best Shakespeare festivals in the country, I’ll readily admit to being spoiled. Nonetheless, I think I can safely say I’ve done, read, and seen more Shakespeare than the majority of 20 year old Americans. One item on my bucket list is to watch and read Shakespeare’s entire canon; to date I’ve read 15, seen at least 18 (its hard to remember them all…), and been involved in the production of another 3 plus the Compleat Works Abridged. I still know this rap word for word, and this is probably why I have no idea what order the histories actually go in. (Or maybe because I never took AP Euro.)
Regardless, I’d like to say I know a good Shakespeare show when I see it. Although I am partial to simpler and Victorian period staging, I have been known to fall in love with time-traveling shows (SF Shakes’ 2009 Comedy of Errors comes to mind), and have disliked period productions (but, ya’ know, that may have just been because it was Cymbeline…).
Livermore Shakespeare‘s production this summer of The Taming of the Shrew is set in the late 40’s, immediately following the end of WWII. In spite of my preconceptions against such a setting, I had to see it. When your very first drama teacher plays Tranio and your childhood idol is Katherine herself, you really can’t miss it. And a damn fine production it was.
I love Livermore Shakes for its gorgeous outdoor stage and the elegance with which it pulls off all its shows. (Plus the fact that it makes a great excuse for a night out with Mom.) Unlike OSF’s 2011 Measure for Measure, which felt forced into a 1970’s telenovela, the textual changes made in this production of the Shrew felt appropriate. The locations were brought home, the apparel references updated, and the transportation preferences modern. Did I notice? yes. Did I care? not too much. The show is really a lighthearted one; it is classified as a comedy, and has the requisite sexual innuendo, mistaken/concealed identities, and “true love.” In this vein, the changed lines (and the extra ones) added humor, and power, to the production.
But I think what really saved me from the depths of my self-imposed hatred for all shows set in a non-Elizabethan-era was the outstanding acting. I loved Brian Herndon’s accents (there were multiple!), and the way he switched from Tranio to “Lucentio,” bringing the audience effortlessly from one character into the next. Jennifer Le Blanc’s fabulous Katherine was absolutely breathtaking – as an audience member, I knew for myself the ups and downs of Kate’s hatred, betrayal, and love. And Armando McClain portrayed the manipulative Petruchio in so many wonderful ways – I’d like to learn a thing or two from him (I have a younger brother, after all!). I didn’t think it was possible to see Jenn Le Blanc and Armando McClain as a more convincing or powerful couple than they were last summer in Macbeth, but they blew my mind once again; their chemistry on stage is truly phenomenal. Last, but not least, a shout-out to Jeremy Tribe Gallardo – may your sound effects take you far!
Kudos as well to the sound and light designers, whose work added atmosphere and ambiance. And to the stage manager, for calling everything right (or at least close enough that an audience member uninvolved in the production saw no mistakes). As a techie myself, the best praise I ever received after a show was merely “Nice! I didn’t notice anything wrong.” Coming from people who focus on finding the technical aspects that went wrong, this is high praise indeed. I’d like to pass that praise on to the technical crew of Shrew – I loved the show in no small part because of you.
All in all, a wonderful show that I wish I had the time to see again. I recommend it to everyone, Shakespeare aficionado, WWII history buff, or general SFBay citizen alike. Go here for tickets!
And Jenn, if you’re reading this, thanks for never torturing my teddy bears at all those Christmas parties years ago! 🙂