Ben Miles

Role-reversal can be an enjoyable and entertaining exercise in building empathy and widening the perspectives of those who participate and/or witness such an activity.

Acclaimed dramatist Amy Freed has undertaken a most formidable project in role-reversing. Ms. Freed, whose talents as a playwright have been much appreciated by Southern California audiences and nurtured through a long relationship with The OC’s multi award-winning South Coast Repertory – as exemplified in 2001 with Ms. Freed’s “The Beard of Avon” – has cleverly warped Shakespeare’s 1591 comedy “The Taming of the Shrew,” into a feminine conceit, as if written by a female; instead of “The Bard,” imagine if the scribe had been “The Bard-ess.”

With spirited direction and choreography by Art Manke and impressive stagecraft by Ralph Funicello (scenic design); David Kay Michelson (costumes); Jaymi Lee Smith (lighting); and Steven Cahill (soundscape and compositions) – the thirteen-member cast displays extraordinary comedic timing and there are many (arguably too many) double-entendre witticisms, such as using a banjo and supposed music lessons as an allusion to the male sex organ and acts of sexual intimacy.

As Ms. Freed admitted in a recent interview with another publication, she thinks Shakespeare’s 16th century “Shrew” is nearly “unproduceable” in this age of the #MeToo movement. Therefore, Ms. Freed takes a postmodernist approach to Shakespeare’s early (and problematic) comedy, empowering Katherine, the titular “Shrew,” as an independent and strong-willed protagonist (Susannah Rogers is comedically convincing and impressively agile in this unique portrayal).

As Katherine’s suitor and nemesis, Petruchio enters a battle of the sexes of sorts with Katherine that provides many hilarious high-points (Elijah Alexander admirably fulfills this physically challenging role), it begs the comedic question: Who is taming whom?

A grade-A troupe of actors brings Ms. Freed’s turn-about take on Shakespeare’s “Taming” to life, including Peter Frechette as Hortensio; Jeremy Peter Johnson as Tranio; the Sierra Jolene as the beautiful but shallow Bianca; and Martin Kildare as the bartering big daddy of both Katherine and Bianca.

Additionally, other fine performances are worthy of praise, including a pair of jesters embodied by Bhama Roget as the miming Biondello and Danny Scheie as the acid-tongued Grumio. Rounding out the roles of “Shrew” are Mike McShane as Gremio; Colette Kilroy doing double duty as Mistress Slapbottom and the grim-faced, cold-hearted Widow; Matt Orduna also performs as two distinct characters, Vincentio and the Wedding Singer; Brett Ryback is the mischievous Lucentio; and Stephen Caffrey plays both the comedically cryptic Merchant and an equally questionable man of the cloth.

Amy Freed does a good-humored rewrite of Shakespeare’s inherently sexist five hundred year-old conceit doing a slapstick sort of send-up that puts The Bard’s “Taming” through a kind of test of the times.

“Shrew,” at two and a half-hours (with one fifteen-minute intermission) plays Tuesdays through Sundays on the Segerstrom Stage of Costa Mesa’s South Coast Rep through April 21. For reservations call (714) 708-5555. For online ticketing and further details visit www.scr.org.




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