By: Anita W. Harris
April is not only tax season and the “cruelest month,” according to T.S. Eliot, but also William Shakespeare’s birthday month. Celebrating his would-be 453rd year, Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) is airing not one but two old-time radiobroadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays. The first, The Taming of the Shrew, continues at the Richard Goad Theatre through April 9, followed by Romeo and Juliet later this month.
Condensed and adapted into an hour-long, 1930s-style radiobroadcast format by director Helen Borgers, The Taming of the Shrew offers a predominantly aural experience of the play with seven actors, who also perform sound effects. That the effects include not only horse clopping but also slaps and knocked-over chairs attests to the somewhat violent nature of Katharina (Sarah Hoeven), the “shrew” of the title, and her eventual “taming” by her dowry-seeking new husband Petruchio (Leonardo Lerma).
The personal physical violence is paralleled by a type of psychological violence perpetrated by Petruchio (Lerma) on Katharina, or Kate (Hoeven), after their marriage, as she is manipulated and mildly tortured into obeying his every word and command. The “taming” thus seems to cross a line (at least for modern audiences) from depicting not only the domestication of a woman’s independent spirit as she becomes a wife but making her into the automatonic executor of her husband’s every whim, including agreeing that the sun is the moon if he says so.
Given this provocative and potentially troubling message of the play in terms of the roles of women and men, it might have been worthwhile for the production to include a short post-performance discussion with director Borgers and the actors to share views about what happens to Kate. Or perhaps a follow-up could have been added of the actors exiting the KBRD radio station commenting on the story, just as they had entered as regular New Yorkers arriving to their radio acting jobs.
That said, however, the production does well to highlight the humor that also underscores the play (it is considered a comedy, after all). Katharina’s initial opinionated, sharp temper lends itself to mockery by the other characters. And the other characters, especially the servants and the suitors of Katharina’s younger sister Bianca (Amy Paloma Welch), come across as humorous in their single-mindedness. As Katharina’s father Baptista, Andy Kallok’s best moment is when he checks himself and mumbles confusedly as Katharina describes him as a young maid instead of an old man at Petruchio’s request.
The actors, all veteran LBSC performers, do a commendable job bringing the play to life using only their voices on otherwise minimal staging. Lerma as Petruchio and Ketty Citterio as Gremio, one of Bianca’s (Welch) suitors, are especially enthusiastic, infusing their lines with emotional intensity. Hoeven, a late recruit to the production, is similarly effusive as Katharina and clear as a bell in her delivery. Megan Lennon is poised and comfortable in her multiple roles, easily changing her accent and pitch as she moves from suitor Hortensio to servant Tranio to a widow.
This pared-down, radiobroadcast version of The Taming of the Shrew cuts to the chase of Katharina’s absolute acquiescence to Petruchio, laying bare the lines without any added interpretation through dramatic performance. The audience can thus decide whether Petruchio’s final insistence to his wife– “kiss me, Kate”– invites love or compliance. It’s certainly something to discuss after the show.
The Taming of the Shrew continues at the Richard Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., through April 9, with shows Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $12.50. For reservations and information, call (562) 997-1494 or visit LBShakespeare.org.