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"Taming of the Shrew" with a twist

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

By D

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© 2011 Idaho Press-Tribune
BOISE — Stuck in the ‘80s and lovin’ it.

This is Shakespeare like you’ve never seen it before and like only our friends at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival can deliver it … with zeal, side-splitting humor, sensitive emotion and incredible physicality.

Director Tracy Young made her ISF debut last weekend when the festival premiered its month-long run of William Shakespeare’s comedy classic “Taming of the Shrew.”

Young promised surprises and she and the talented ensemble certainly delivered. She blends together familiar pop tunes, some outrageously colorful costumes, and an equally eye-popping set. References to Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical,” a sassy Robert Palmer number to the tune “Simply Unbelievable,” complete with those iconic background singers in skin-tight black dresses, are only a couple of the ‘80s references weaved into this show.

The plot

Katherina and Bianca are the two daughters of wealthy merchant, Baptista. But, Katherina has a shrewish disposition and her father is determined that Bianca will not be wed until her older sister is.

While suitors scheme and scam for the affections of Bianca, Petruchio of Verona pays a visit to his friend Horensio (one of Bianca’s suitors). He is intrigued by Katherina’s large dowry and is determined to woo her.

What ensues is a comical delight.

Petruchio, played with zeal by Jim Lichtscheidl, stuns everyone by saying he finds Katherina charming and pleasant. A marriage is arranged and Petruchio sets out to tame Katherina through a series of increasingly worse tricks.

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Petruchio achieves his goal and eventually tames Katherina … or does he? When Bianca and Lucentio are wed Petruchio wagers that his wife is the most obedient and Katherina lectures her sister on how to be a good and loving wife.

As always, Shakespeare’s complex characters leave the audience wondering.

ISF veteran actress Sara M. Bruner portrays “The Shrew” Katherina magnificently. She rants and raves, flings herself about and provides the play’s most poignant and thought-provoking dialogue in a superb performance.

The talented ensemble also includes Reggie Gowland as Lucentio, a suitor to Bianca; Neil Brookshire, who is brilliant in his role in ISF’s current run of “Cabaret,” plays Biondello the servant to Lucentio who masquerades as a tutor and suitor to Bianca; the always delightful Eduardo Placer as Horensio, another suitor to Bianca; Laura Perrotta, the rich widow who winds up with Horensio; Kjertsine Rose Anderson as the lovely but shallow Bianca; John Woodson as Batista Minola, a rich citizen of Padua and father to Bianca and Katherina; and Richard Klautsch in the role of Vincentio, father of Lucentio.

Click to read full article at Idaho Press Tribune

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Taming of the Shrew, Like Totally ISF's production channels 1980's Los Angeles

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Boise Weekly

by Deanna Darr

Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of Taming of the Shrew may mark the first time the Bard's work has included the terms “douchebag” and “don't have a cow.”

Under the leadership of Tracy Young in her ISF directorial debut, the classic tale is ripped out of Padua, Italy, and dumped in the middle of 1980s Los Angeles, complete with all the ridiculousness of that time and place. From neon Spandex and popped collars to shoulder pads and big hair, the production is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to an era that those of us who lived through it are kind of glad is over.

The juxtaposition of '80s trends and terms with the classic script is a bit jarring at first. The comedy has the air of farce as '80s pop culture is laid out in an almost tribute to the decade of excess. But as the production progresses, it gains rhythm, especially with assistance from the iconic music of the era, which plays an integral role in helping to tell the story while creating a sense of nostalgia.

ISF veteran Sara M. Bruner takes the lead as Katherina, or Kate, the strong-willed daughter of a wealthy Hollywood resident. Her father has declared that no one will marry his Valley Girl-esque younger daughter Bianca (Kjerstine Rose Anderson) until Kate is married.

Lucentio (Reggie Gowland)–who is from a powerful Portland, Ore., family–arrives to see the wonders of Los Angeles, one of which turns out to be Bianca. He plans to win her heart by posing as a tutor. In the meantime, another of Bianca's suitors, Hortensio (Eduardo Placer), talks his old friend Petruchio (Jim Lichtscheidl)–freshly arrived from Montana–into wedding the shrew with the promise of the riches that come with the union. Cue the hilarity.

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ISF first-timer Lichtscheidl provides not only needed grounding but makes Petruchio a much more likeable character with more depth than the cock-sure, testosterone-poisoned character he is usually made out to be. This Petruchio has a softer and more thoughtful side. Initially, Bruner's Kate is played less as a headstrong woman and more like a bat-shit-crazy lunatic who should be committed. Thankfully, her portrayal becomes more measured in later acts.

The highly physical show has actors circling in and out of the audience, constantly chucking things at each other and breaking into random dance moments, all without dropping a line of the complex dialogue.

By the end of the performance, the audience is won over by the story's charm and the fact that the production owns its silliness as it ventures back to the 1980s and brings the audience along on a nostalgic trip.

Click here to read full article at Boise Weekly

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Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival's "The Taming of the Shrew," offers tubular 80s version of the Bard’s angry Valley Girl

Monday, August 8th, 2011

BY DANA OLAND – doland@idahostatesman.com
Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
Published: 08/08/11

The 1980s are alive and well at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival this summer in director Tracy Young’s totally awesome take on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” which opened Saturday to a nearly full house.


Photo by Chris Butler of Idaho Statesman

Young, a seasoned director in her ISF debut, doesn’t just restage Shakespeare’s play, she reinvents it for a contemporary audience, making choices along with her actors — principally Sara M. Bruner (Katherine) and Jim Lischtscheidl (Petruchio) — that mitigate many of the play’s problems.

Young freshens the text with lively and freewheeling use of ’80s idioms injected into the dialogue. She has fun with place: Lucentio (Reggie Gowland) isn’t from Pisa, but from Portland (Oregon one assumes), Petruchio is from the wilds of Montana, and lunch is served in Santa Monica. Young also replaces the play’s stock characters with 1980s icons and stereotypes: Indiana Jones, Ivana Trump and Madonna.

The ensemble cast is dynamic, with a mix of actors and dancers in the crew. They create wonderful moments outside of the two main stories that give the production much flavor, such as the four dancing bridesmaids, Philip Michael Carroll’s rendition of Tom Cruise’s “Old Time Rock-n-Roll” from “Risky Business,” and Eduardo Placer’s turn as a 1980s era Prince.

Using the play’s roots in commedia dell’arte, Young creates a rich physical language of slapstick and gesture that helps the story along.

In one scene, Lischtscheidl holds Bruner upside down. As Kate hangs on for dear life, Petruchio says “Give me your hand Kate,” which she does, but only too late realizes the complete meaning of his statement.

Musically, Young and sound designer Peter John Still put together a soundtrack that’s an MTV-athon, with everything from Duran Duran to Bob Seger, Prince to The Human League. It’s worth eating in the theater to enjoy the pre-show tunes.

The heart of the play, and why it is so good, comes from Bruner and Lischtscheidl’s portrayals of Kate and Petruchio.

Bruner’s Katherine, who dresses in post-Annie Hall style, is smart, independent and angry at the world. She rejects everything about the coming “Material Girl” image of the decade, which her sister Bianca (the delightful Kjerstine Rose Anderson) embraces.

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“Shrew” is still a problematic play because it uncomfortably brushes against our modern sense of equality. The idea that a husband must tame a woman to become his wife is abhorrent, yet in the world of the play, and in our own, becoming a spouse requires a major attitude adjustment.

Bruner adds layers to her Kate’s biting wit. She takes her time with Katherine’s final speech that admonishes Bianca, the Widow (Laura Perrotta), and the audience on how a wife should behave. Kate chooses her words carefully and with this thoughtful approach, it doesn’t come off that a woman’s place is obediently in the home as much as it is by the man she chooses to love. That wins her respect and Petruchio’s honest love, which Lischtscheidl expresses in a wonderfully romantic gesture that changes the tone of the ending.

Lischtscheidl’s Petruchio enters with less bravado and more uncertainty, giving him more humanity. He needs it because the play requires he also make adjustments. This is Lischtscheidl’s first season with ISF.

One of Young’s influences, the gritty drama “American Gigolo,” gives the play its setting in early 1980s Los Angeles, reflected in Michael Locher’s sleek industrial set. As locales change, we peek into windows to see fruit pop art, Patrick Nagel’s iconic prints of beautiful women, a cherry-red loveseat and other touches from the decade.

That’s one reason the play sits so well in the candied-pop, party-to-the-max world of 1980s Los Angeles. Call it the attitude adjustment decade.

Granted this play from the 16th century takes that adjustment to extremes, but the central questions still resonate: what does it takes to be in a real relationship, how much is it worth, and what will you sacrifice for it?

Alex Jaeger’s costumes are a hoot and hit the true style of the decade, referencing the best and beautifully worst of 80s fashion: Bianca’s “Like a Virgin” wedding gown, a delicious gold lame jumpsuit, and the tight, black dresses of Robert Palmer girls.

It’s all helped along by Rick Martin’s subtle and effective lighting.

Frankly, for those who lived through the decade, it’s a little creepy. None of the elements by themselves are exaggerated, yet all together they scream hilarity. Half the audience was asking, “Did we really look like that?” Ahem, yes.

“Shrew” also boasts the funniest Greenshow of the season: “The Shrewly-Wed Game,” in which a familiar Shakespearean couple tries to win a set of luggage. Yes, it’s a play on that 1960s iconic game show, but lest you think they got it wrong, remember the “New Newlywed Game” became a hit in 1984.

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click to read full article at Idaho Statesman

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Director makes her Idaho Shakespeare Festival debut with ‘Shrew’

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Tracy Young finds a niche for the play in the 1980s

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By Dana Oland – doland@idahostatesman.com
Published: 08/05/11

Tracy Young chooses her words carefully so as not to give too much away about her debut production of “The Taming of the Shrew” which opens at Idaho Shakespeare Festival this weekend.

“Just come and see it,” she says with a laugh.

But by glancing around the rehearsal room, one can deduce a few things: orange furniture and bright pink and green props abound. Hey, is that a Walkman?

Yes, “Shrew” in the 1980s. Finally! We’ve been waiting for an ’80s take on The Bard.

Think “American Gigolo” meets “Pretty in Pink” and you’ll get there.

During rehearsal last week the large company filled the space with crazy amounts of energy and laughter as they learned their choreographed bows. (Don’t worry, Tracy, we won’t give it away.)

It’s clear Young’s “Shrew” will be full of surprises. She is known for creating compelling, visceral, physically dynamic — hysterically funny — theater.

Young is the first new director at the festival in the past five years, and she’s enjoying shaking things up with a new perspective, energy and some serious theatrical lineage.

In college, Young thought she would end up in working in film. Then she fell in with The Actors Gang, a company founded by Tim Robbins in Los Angeles. It’s deeply rooted in the traditions of commedia dell’arte, a highly physical form of storytelling filled with stock characters and pratfalls.

That’s a perfect fit because “Shrew” is Shakespeare’s commedia play.

Young worked with Actors Gang from 1985 to 2001, becoming that company’s first woman to write and direct. She also studied with SITI Company’s Anne Bogart learning her Viewpoints, an approach to theater that allows the actor’s physical perspective to influence the narrative. The idea is that the story is different from wherever you are on stage.

With those two influences, plus her own cheery look on life, she works organically, drawing on the energy and creativity in the room for inspiration.

“I like to get up and start sketching early. Every process is different. For this one, we did get up on our feet pretty early and the actors were bringing a lot of great impulses, which signaled to me we should keep working in this vein.”

It took producing artistic director Charlie Fee two years to get Young to Idaho. That’s when he saw her adaptation of “The Servant and Two Masters” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she directs regularly.

“That production was hysterically funny,” Fee says. “Let me tell you: lights come up and there’s a gigantic, full audience belly laugh at the top of the show. Then it never let up. Her work is incredibly inventive and rhythmically precise and exciting. I knew she’d be a good fit for our company.”

“Shrew” is a challenging play today. The idea of a Kate (Sara M. Bruner) being forcefully “tamed” or controlled by her husband Petruchio (Jim Lichtscheidl) goes against our modern sensibilities. There’s also the way the men barter and bid for the shrewish Kate and sweet Bianca (Kjerstine Rose Anderson).

“This play is so rife with ‘The Art of the Deal,’ the 1980s seemed a natural,” Young says. “There’s no ignoring those perceptions, there’s meeting them, countering them and incorporating the audience perceptions and what they are bringing … to the process.”

She does that by playing with gender games of the 1980s. Think of Annie Lennox in male drag and Boy George anytime.

Young turned to “American Gigolo” for inspiration. Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s (as this play is), Richard Gere plays a male prostitute who ends up being accused of murdering one of his clients.

“There was something about the way that character navigated a world that usually is taken on by a woman,” she says.

For the story of Bianca and her suitors Lucentio (Reggie Gowland) and Hortensio (Eduardo Placer) Young turned to the “Brat Pack” films of John Hughes, such as “The Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire.”

“There was a resonant parallel with all of this at a time when that second-wave feminism of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem was nearing its end. That seemed an interesting convergence,” she says.

So, not to give anything away, but expect a few ’80s pop songs, and iconic characters along the way.

The fact that this late 16th century play fits neatly into the decade of Reaganomics and “Miami Vice” only punctuates why Shakespeare is so great.

“Ultimately the story is deeply about love and partnership and it wrestles with things we continue to wrestle with in our culture just as strongly,” Young says. “It can withstand a great deal of inquiry and still offer up more fruits to anyone who chooses to look.”

© 2011 Idaho Statesman
Click to read full article at Idaho Statesman
Dana Oland: 377-6442