The Old Globe’s merrymaking The Taming of the Shrew celebrates the theater’s 75th year with surprises, a captive audience and a few stars.
Before the show begins, the servant lads talk to the audience. One explains to the front row that they might get spit on; the really good actors can spit as far as the fifth row. It turns out the front row has its advantages too. When Katherine (Emily Swallow) went to throw her shoe at her father, Baptista Minola (Adrian Sparks), it landed in a lady’s hands almost hitting her face. With some quick thinking, Sparks took the shoe and said, as if to apologize, “You thought you had good seats.” As the audience laughs, Michael Stewart Allen (Tranio, at this point is already dressed like his master Lucentio) makes a quirk about the shoe and has the audience roaring. There is seating on stage; a boy about thirteen is nibbled by Petruchio’s (Jonno Roberts) horse. The horse goes out of control toward the front row as it lets out a few droppings. Petruchio’s servant Grumio, audience favorite Bruce Turk, scoops up the droppings into a bucket. Turk looks into the bucket looking like he is going to throw it at the audience. Instead, out comes glitter. Other special effects include tiny bubbles that the audience tries to catch. The same bubbles create a storm in King Lear doing double duty in the Old Globe's concurrent production; everybody’s on a budget these days.
Appearing not on a budget is Deirdre Clancy’s costume design which is much more flamboyant compared to King Lear, in part thanks to Lonnie Gettman, owner of Designer Fabric, who collects exclusive fabric samples from big names in the clothing industry, graciously donating pieces for this show and others. The men are in knickers, high heels and hats. While Swallow and Bree Welch, as sweet Bianca, are in bell shaped wedding dresses with ornate detail.
The scenic design by Ralph Funicello is much like the set up of King Lear this time utilizing a bridge lift for a dining table. Unlike other San Diego theaters, the stage hands are never seen except for one exception. After intermission, one of the servant lads notices the “W” in the electric Taming of the Shrew sign is crooked and has a stage manager come out to look. A servant lad goes up the stairs to fix the “W” with a cracking, lights flash and a storm of bubbles float into the theater. Anyway, the servant lads played it off well and on went the show.
The chemistry between the leads Katherine (Emily Swallow) and Petruchio (Jonno Roberts) doesn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Roberts is a charming and pompous Petruchio, always grinning, smiling and adding to the festive atmosphere. Swallow makes faces, grits her teeth or shows them to the audience like she’s a horse, making fists and claws. Swallow and Roberts are likeable as an archetypal husband and wife. Persuasively, the best part—Kate’s monologue at the end of the play—Swallow walks toward Roberts as she says, “Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,” while Robert grins proudly, winning the bet and, best of all, Kate’s affection. And off to bed they go.
Supporting actors Jay Whittaker, Michael Stewart Allen added some fun confusion. It’s like a “Where’s Waldo” picture when following Whittaker as Lucentio (and Edgar in King Lear) with his costume changes and character transformations. Allen is pimped out, pretending to be Lucentio, in yellow knickers and cape with sunglasses, high heel shoes and hair shaved in back with long bangs. He is a reminder of Elton John in his “I’m Still Standing” video and you won’t get the “Ya, ya, ya!” song out of your head.
Joseph Marcell performs Gremio with high energy and is in on the game of finding a suitor for Kate. Marcell is often recognized for his role as “Geoffrey” on the 90s television hit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but he is also an accomplished Shakespearean actor who has been on the Artistic Directorate and Council at Shakespeare’s Globe for 25 years.
Celebrities were in the audience as well. Ben McKenzie, who played Ryan Atwood from the show The O.C. and now works on Southland (returning in January 2011).
Watching a production at the Old Globe always feels like you are watching a star in the making. This is definitely a show not to be missed.