Mounting one of Shakespeare’s plays for 21st century audiences involves the infusing of energy into the most mundane elements in order to maintain interest between the scenes involving principal characters.
The American Coast Theater Company — the professional arm of Costa Mesa’s Vanguard University — fully comprehends this requirement and demonstrates it throughout its lively production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” It doesn’t hurt, either, to have Vanguard’s two hottest talents in the leading roles.
Before the classic conflict between Katherine (Susan K. Berkompas) and Petruchio (Paul Eggington) plays out, there are several expository moments that director Kevin Slay instills with comedic electricity. The three suitors of the younger sister establish their positions with all the subtlety of the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers.
With this groundwork aptly laid, Berkompas and Eggington have at it in frenetic, no-holds-barred fashion, drawing figurative blood as much with their dialogue as with their actions. Berkompas is superb as the “lusty, brawling scold” who must be wed before the fair Bianca (a coquettish Deborah Marley) and as amicable as a charging rhino.
Enter Eggington as Petruchio, who comes to “wive it wealthily in Padua.” Tall and overbearing, he establishes his authority splendidly with vocal eloquence and sheer physical force. One might wish they shared more stage time, but the play requires subplots to allow the principals the opportunity to change costumes.
The supporting players are a skilled and crafty lot, particularly Nicholas Lazaris as the ancient suitor Gremio, bent and hobbled by age but crackling in his delivery. Also quite effective is Doug Scholl as Hortensio, who insinuates himself comically into scenes where his presence is hardly required.
As the primary contender for Bianca’s hand, James McHale’s Lucentio is virtually the only “straight” character in the show, leaving the outlandish antics to his servant Tranio (Judd Johnson), who handles them with alacrity once the pair have switched identities (a traditional Shakespearean device) to allow Lucentio closer access to Bianca.
Shakespeare’s servants seem to have all the fun, and Rene Scheys makes the most of his freewheeling turn as Grumio, employed by Petruchio. His scenes with Petruchio’s domestic (the feisty Katelyn Spurgin) are particularly animated.
William Gillean as Baptista, the girls’ father, projects an understated authority. Stan Jones is a bit less effective as Lucentio’s long-absent father Vincentio.
Eggington not only plays a leading role, he also designed the rotating dual-image setting which serves as both a street in Padua and Petruchio’s lair. Ann Delahunty and Carole Zelinger have created some attractive and authentic-appearing costumes, while Zach Simons’ lighting effects are first rate.
“The Taming of the Shrew” doesn’t crop up much on local stages, possibly because of womens’ issues with the Bard’s treatment of them. But the American Coast Theater Company has structured a rousing, visceral production of this classic comedy at Vanguard University.
TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You GoWhat: “The Taming of the Shrew”
Who: American Coast Theater Co.
Where: Vanguard University Lyceum Theater, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays through July 8
Cost: $15 to $20
Call: (714) 619-6424 or https://www.AmericanCoastTheater.org