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One-ring circus 

A rollicking rendition of Taming of the Shrew

click to enlarge Actor George Spencer, as Petruchio, tries to tame his shrew, played by Alysabeth Clements.
  • Actor George Spencer, as Petruchio, tries to tame his shrew, played by Alysabeth Clements.

Directed by Richard Crawford (a member of New York City's Flying Machine, the company that put on TheatreWorks' production of Frankenstein last fall) the production is a one-ring circus of physical comedy, bawdy jokes and good humor.

If you aren't familiar with the story of this controversial play, then you're probably one of the people who should go and see it: This production will be a great introduction. The story goes like this: Kate (Alysabeth Clements) is a notorious, headstrong young woman -- a "shrew" -- and the eldest daughter of wealthy merchant Baptista (Julian M. Bucknall). Baptista also has a younger, sweeter and more malleable daughter, Bianca (Sarah Bousquet), who has several suitors. However, Baptista has vowed that none shall marry Bianca until Kate is wed. Into town rides Petruchio (George Spencer), who has vowed to marry only a wealthy woman and who sets as his task the wooing and "taming" of Kate.

Through various means, both kindly and abusive, Petruchio wins Kate and frees the way for Bianca to marry. (The controversy of the play stems both from that abuse and from Kate's final speech, which abjures her former independence and urges women to be submissive to their husbands.)

According to the program bio, director Crawford is an experienced director of clown work for such companies as Cirque du Soleil, and his extensive knowledge shows. First is the setting itself, which is somewhere between a circus and commedia dell'arte. The set, created by Marisa Frantz, is an amazingly flexible space that is alternately a circus ring, a garden, a street, a castle and several other things as well. Second, the majority of the actors work in whiteface, none more effectively than Bousquet, who minces and prances with whiteface and exaggerated red lips into a parody of little sister virtue. Third, the supporting actors all have a strong, clowning physical presence that makes the most of the bawdy and comedic script. Of special note is Wayne Wilson as Petruchio's servant Grumio, who leaps and cavorts about the stage with delightful ease and comedic effect.

None of these wild shenanigans distract, however, from the tremendous stage presence of Spencer, also a New York City import. Spencer manages to marry the physicality of a character actor with the presence of a romantic lead and the voice of a radio personality. Opposite him, local actor Clements more than holds her own, striding across the space with fiery red hair and the expression of a demon. Together, they make the intimate space of the Bon Vivant Theater crackle with the energy and tension of a war between the sexes.

With the connection to New York's Flying Machine and fine professional actors, artistic director Murray Ross continues to bring first-class theater to southern Colorado. After its run at the Bon Vivant, the production travels to the mountain towns of Parker, Trinidad and Salida. Catch it here, catch it there, whatever. Just catch it.

-- Andrea Lucard

capsule

The Taming of the Shrew

The Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive (near the corner of Austin Bluffs Parkway and Union Boulevard)

Tuesday through Sunday, July 2-18, 7:30 p.m.; Matinees, Saturday at 2 and Sunday at 4 p.m.

July 21-25 in Parker; July 31-Aug. 2 in Trinidad; Aug. 5-8 in Salida

First-come-first-served FREE tickets available for each performance at 5:45 p.m. (free parking starts at 5 p.m.). Reserved seating tickets for all performances are available from $18 to $20.

www.uccstheatreworks.com TheatreWorks box office 262-3232.

  • A rollicking rendition of Taming of the Shrew

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