By Stephanie Raygoza
Giving an Italian-themed, Shakespearean classic a Western twist could easily rustle up the spurs of any literary enthusiast. However, Gregory Cohen’s adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew at the Long Beach Playhouse delivers brazen performances partnered with witty, drawl-filled lines and a brilliantly brash shrew.
Flashback to Arizona in 1885, where this production is set, as guests are treated to a good, old-fashioned bar brawl for the opening scene, which not only succeeds in setting the wild nature of the play, but also in lassoing in the audience’s attention.
Taking the recognizable, action-packed play to the American Wild West appeared all too fitting for Cohen, who said, “The audience would be more inclined not to look at it as ‘a classic to be studied,’ but rather an entertainment to be enjoyed.”
With vintage, painted props resembling an Old West town hanging atop the stage, and interchangeable backdrops taking viewers from a local bar to a quaint country house in a matter of seconds, the set design simplistically complements the true stars of the show– the actors.
As Shakespeare’s play goes, three suitors are vying for the love of the fair Bianca, however her father refuses to marry her off unless her notoriously unruly sister Katherine weds first. Enter Petruchio, a man who couldn’t care less about whom he marries as long as she brings him wealth, and soon he convinces her father that he will indeed marry the shrew. Meanwhile, Lucentio is wooing Bianca over as Petruchio begins to take Katherine’s rude attitude and in turn direct it towards her.
Traditional Western dresses and getups suit the cast properly as they deliver often-tricky Shakespearean lines with a sharp drawl, all the while firing gunshots and attacking each other.
On occasion, some actors stumbled in delivering lines and drifted in and out of character, which may in part stem from opening-night jitters. However, this did not distract the viewer too much from following the play’s sequences.
Weaving in a Western theme provided the memorable delivery of key scenes, but most importantly helped decipher a language that in most cases may confuse the non-trained, Shakespearean ear.
Still, the heart of the play lies in the enigmatic courtship between Katherine and Petruchio, which, by the end of the play, blossoms into sincere and enviable marriage.
Wonderfully played by newcomer Amber Bonasso and the energy-driven David Santana, the two create cinematic charm, exuding a type of love-hate relationship that is rarely perfectly balanced and embraced.
The final scene sees all the couples come together to share their battles and joys and, in one last playful competition, the husbands propose a bet to see whose wife if more dutiful to him.
In a loving gesture, Katherine is the only one who answers to her husband’s call, which not only reflects the complete transformation of a bad-mannered shrew to a respectable wife, but also treats viewers to a conclusion that plays sincere homage to the universal appreciation of a hearty comedy.
The Taming of the Shrew will continue on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2pm through Saturday, May 28. Tickets are available at lbplayhouse.org, or by calling (562) 494-1014, ext. 550. Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St.