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Untamed Antics, Language in ‘Shrew’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” often comes under attack in modern times for anti-Semitism in its portrait of Shylock, the moneylender. The Bard’s Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew” also causes problems for some today because she supposedly bends to her husband’s will.

These days, both often get a more politically correct treatment. The way Kate’s played in Irvine Valley College’s revival of “Shrew” is a good example. This Kate wins the battle of the sexes hands down, leaving her blustering Petruchio not knowing that she’s the one pulling the strings.

Part of this effect is Nickie Zepeda’s forthright and affecting performance as Kate. She’s probably no less a shrew at the end than most Kates, but she realizes that her acquiescence puts her in control.

The other part of the effect is accomplished in the overly macho, couch-potato performance of William Tanner as Petruchio. While Zepeda’s Kate is turning the tables on him, you almost expect Petruchio to make an entrance with a six-pack and a TV remote. He’s no match for this Kate.

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It’s an interesting new balance between the characters; it’s a shame that the production as a whole gives the interpretation a less than perfect frame.

*

Director John-Frederick Jones makes sure that the action is brisk and has pumped plenty of life into his cast, but many of the actors speak as if the lines are in a foreign language. They allow declaiming and frantic movements to replace characterization.

Others are more at ease with the dialogue. James H. Halaoui, as a fretting Hortensio, suitor to Kate’s sister, Bianca, and Terry Christopher as her put-upon father, Baptista, speak the lines most naturally, and Jehann J. Elsemri as Bianca gives a creditable performance.

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Alfonso Gomez is bouncy and sometimes funny as servant Grumio. He knows what the lines mean and reads them with fervor. Gordon Yeaton Jr., as Bianca’s aging suitor Gremio, says his words right but without much style.

Lucentio, the suitor who wins Bianca, is played by Michael David Huff at all-out volume, with gestures reminiscent of early silent films, which is exactly the same problem with Ian Williamson as Lucentio’s servant Tranio, who disguises himself as his master to fool Baptista. Jessica S. Runde is a little silly as Lucentio’s other servant, Biondella, doing almost a solo act with movements oddly choreographic and arms swinging to no purpose.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* “The Taming of the Shrew,” Forum Theatre, Irvine Valley College, 5500 Irvine Center Drive. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $10-$11. Ends April 18. (949) 451-5333. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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Terry Christopher: Baptista Minola

Nickie Zepeda: Kate

Jehann J. Elsemri: Bianca

William Tanner: Petruchio

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Gordon Yeaton Jr.: Gremio

James H. Halaoui: Hortensio

Michael David Huff: Lucentio

Ian Williamson: Tranio

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Jessica S. Runde: Biondella

Alfonso Gomez: Grumio

An Irvine Valley College Department of Theatre production of Shakespeare’s comedy. Produced by Ron Ellison. Directed by John-Frederick Jones. Scenic design: Suzie Duval. Technical/lighting/sound design: Jim Rynning. Costume design: Kathleen Ziegler, Kay Greenspon. Stage manager: Richard A. Lucas.


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