When I think of Shakespearean theater, my mind doesn't immediately conjure up images of fast paced, bawdy comedies. I recall high school literature classes desperately trying to stay awake until the bell rang thereby releasing me from my latest bout of locking mental antlers with 16th century Shakespearean word play.
Like The Orpheum theater itself, the Director, Alec Wild, kept this play true to its original form, while making it such a lively interpretation that it was extremely engaging and entertaining. It was certainly well paired with this historic theater in which Taming of the Shrew was being presented in both an unusual and fun manner. But, before I address the play itself, as an admirer of great architecture, I must pay homage to this opulent theater.
TThe play cleverly utilized three areas of the newly restored 2,000 seat Orpheum Theater that was built in 1926: the basement lounge with its beautiful brick and tile floor; the massive newly restored marble lobby; and lastly, the awesome main theater itself. It was as if we, the audience, were realtors being led on a spectacular tour and some of the numerous high-end aspects were being featured for all to appreciate. In 2001, a massive renovation of this entire grandiose theater made the marble entry and balconies shine as if newly mined from an Italian quarry. Among other noteworthy resurrections, the gold and copper leaf ceilings and bronze and cast iron decorations clearly showed that a loving friend had ensured nothing but the best for this live theatrical goldmine located on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.
Now, on to this humorous Shakespearean battle of the sexes. In the late 16th and 17th century when Shakespeare wrote Taming of the Shrew, men and women had quite different social roles in their patriarchical society. Women were essentially considered to be property: either of their parents, or to their husband. Feminism and women's rights, which would change the entire lay of the land, wouldn't take the world by storm for another 300+ years. During this early patriarchical timeframe, the role of a woman was to be virtuous, silent, obedient, and modest. Shakespeare decided to toy with this social norm and quite possibly shocked theater goers by this quick witted, hysterical theatrical experience. This just may be one of the first documented battles of the sexes, wherein the final scoreboard result ended up being: Men: 1, Women: 0.
Shakespeare's classic theme of this comedic play was how a rambunctious, strong willed and unmarried eldest daughter of a rich Padua merchant was transformed into what was considered to be a respectable woman at that time in history. Love, loyalty and family helped Kate discover within her inner-self her love as deeply felt and equally returned. Her suitor, Petruchio, played with gusto by Ed Cunningham, was remarkable with his strong acting abilities as he single-handedly and cunningly persuaded Kate to be a loyal, loving individual. Kate, who changed from a lion to a lamb, was outstandingly played by an amazing actress, Tamar Fortgang.
Of course, Kate had no choice in her husband since these were often financial and political deals made by the potential suitor and her father. It was a very brave Petruchio who decided that the fiery Kate will be his wife. Yes, Petruchio was initially motivated by one other key factor: a huge inheritance that would come in his direction when Kate's father passed away. Yet, he amazingly still found what he and everyone in life looks for: love. In order to achieve this lofty goal, a raging brush fire erupted when these two strong-willed and very extreme minds clashed throughout the play. The passion and raw energy Kate emitted as an angry wench was reluctantly tamed by a dose of her own medicine.
The acting was very strong, and certainly had to be, since there were few, if any props. With the intimate seating arrangement, wherein only 90 audience members were allowed per performance, the actors and actresses were often within a mere few feet from the audience. The glorious tapestries and costumes were accurate to the 16th century, and were very well made from lush textiles. The passion and energy from the physical and verbal duals easily made the audience part of the performance. The facial expressions, grimaces, and humorous slapstick events were all-the-more appreciated with the cast being within touching distance. Also, having the two costumed wandering minstrels guiding the audience to a different part of The Orpheum Theater for the next act, it reminded me of an interactive theater event along the lines of Tony & Tina's Italian Wedding.
The ending, an explosive and heartfelt wedding celebration, cleverly involved the audience by inviting them all to sit at tables on stage, drink wine and eat celebratory bread as we witnessed Kate's transformational speech of a lifetime. In Shakespearean context, it made perfect sense, yet, after the sexual revolution and rise of feminism, Kate's speech could be interpreted a completely different way.
You decide which ending you like best. Go check out this live fiery theatrical performance by very talented actors and actresses at the beautiful Orpheum Theater. No, you will not need to lock mental antlers or wrestle a meaty plot, you'll need to keenly pay attention and heartily laugh out loud. Just like we both did.
By Donald and Kimberly Tatera, Southern California Correspondents.