Reduxion Theatre Company closes out its inaugural season with a classy take on one of Shakespeare's most popular and debated comedies, "The Taming of the Shrew."
"Shrew" tells the story of Baptista Minola and her two daughters: the younger and much-sought-after Bianca, and the older Katherina, for whom the play is named. There are no fewer than three suitors all vying for Bianca's hand in marriage.
However, Baptista declares that no one can marry Bianca until Katherina finds a husband first. Enter the country nobleman Petruchio, who by means both crafty and perceivably cruel, sets out to not only woo Katherina, but to break her of her shrewish ways.
Like "Romeo & Juliet" earlier in the season, Reduxion's "Shrew" has a modern setting, but unlike "Romeo & Juliet," which felt not only justified and enhanced by its post-Word War II Japan setting, "Shrew" doesn't benefit as clearly from its 1920s New York locale. While not distracting in the least and often fun to watch "? thanks to the great backdrops, makeup, and costume work "? setting the play on the cusp of women earning the right to vote just doesn't visibly play onstage, unless you read director Tyler Woods' program notes first.
SLOW TO START
"Shrew" is a little slow to start, but comes to life with the introduction of Petruchio, and maintains a well-paced comic energy, culminating with the lunacy of Petruchio's country estate. Things take a turn for the serious in the last scene, in which Kate delivers her controversial monologue about female responsibility.
While some productions attempt to downplay the perceived misogyny of "Shrew" in how Petruchio and Katherina are portrayed, Woods commits to the text, perhaps to the detriment of the audience's enjoyment. Instead of being played as just too clever for her own good "? or misunderstood by people not her intellectual equal "? here, Holly McNatt's Katherina comes off as "¦ well, without using modern slang, a shrew, through and through.
"Shrew" features the most solid cast yet for Reduxion, with consistently good performances from everyone involved. Of particular note is Joshua Irick, who brings boundless energy and nuanced zeal to his portrayal of Petruchio, commanding attention during his scenes without ever becoming overbearing. Kaleb M. Bruza does a solid job in the straight role of the young suitor Lucentio. It's in disguise as Bianca's tutor where the character shines, with Bruza affecting a hilarious uppity accent, and again as Curtis, one of Petruchio's servants.
The real show-stealers of "Shrew" are supporting actors Ian Clinton and Cristela Carrizales, each of whom plays four characters apiece. Clinton gets some of the plays biggest laughs in a series of brief, but well-played cameos as the Minola family maid, and some well-deserved applause for a note-perfect delivery of an epic monologue in which he, as a different servant, describes the absurdist antics of the approaching Petruchio to the horrified wedding party.
Carrizales owns a series of scenes in which she, in full "Godfather" mode, is pretending to be the father of Lucentio, who, at this point, is being played by the lovely Lindsay L. Zana, also in male drag. Carrizales racks up even more laughs as an eccentric male chef and tailor at Petruchio's estate.
Beyond the comedic successes of this production of "Shrew," there are some moments of real artistic magic onstage, notably in the lighting of a fire with a paintbrush and a tribute to a famous Renaissance painting in the final scene.
Small complaints aside, Reduxion has ended its first season on a high note.
The Taming of the Shrew stages at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through June 27 at Reduxion Theatre Company, City Arts Center, 3000 General Pershing.