Bonanza, Blazing Saddles, Dallas, Deadwood…and Shakespeare Dallas, all in one ten-gallon mental picture? Yeehaw. Shakespeare Dallas turns on the heat this summer with fetching Western-style stagings of two of the Bard’s best: The Merry Wives of Windsor TX and The Taming of the Shrew. Theatre companies across the country spend considerable energy and time re-imagining Shakespeare’s works in novel ways to make them appealing and readily accessible to today’s audiences. Few do so with Shakespeare Dallas’ comprehensive mastery.
The Merry Wives of Windsor TX erupts as a rip-roaring 60’s era thigh-slapper from its cheesy Olde West storefront set emblazoned with a giant Texas map and a garishly tipsy neon sign sleazily promoting the ‘Garter Inn’ to its toe-tapping hoe-down celebration of marital bliss at Act II’s conclusion. The play’s signature practical jokes, double entendre machinations and marital scheming bound along at unbridled full gallop thanks to the cleverly detailed modern script full of topical references and jokes as adapted by production director Rene Moreno. His re-vision and direction build upon the play’s intrinsic structure, enhancing the scenes and characterizations without losing the original’s sense, even with broad Texan accents. Added musical numbers and current motif innovations foster hilarity. The surprise “Dating Game” send-up at Act I’s conclusion, hosted by the lascivious Nurse Mistress Quickly (comic talent Kara Torvik-Smith in virtuoso form), makes delightful use of Shakespeare’s comical dueling suitors. Act II’s torchy 70’s style pop love song, worthy of Lionel Ritchie, delivered in dulcet tones here by handsome crooner Joseph Maddox, decked out in a snow-white suit with cherry-hued follow spot and choreographed groupies in matching disco-era attire, reflects the Access Hollywood-style nature of the play’s overblown “match-making.” A terrific comparison in modern guise.
Moreno sweeps his large cast of actors on and off the multi-level set as smoothly as Clint Eastwood herding doggies on a ‘Rawhide’ Hollywood cattle drive. Natural, comic stage pictures burst forth in rapid succession with energy and purpose. “Contemplative” monologues, love protestations, thwarted horse and gun play, bodies hustled about in a huge laundry basket, and a stunning Dia De la Muerta “fairy dance” around the Windsor TX Oak Tree keep the laughs and surprises coming fast and loose while unfolding the tale with clarity and definition. The acting ensemble seems to relish the bawdy mayhem they create so effectively. “Straight guy” T.A. Taylor as the cuckolded Mr. Ford, Drew Walsh as an ingenious, ingenuous Boy Scout, Constance Gold Parry and Kateri Kale as “merry wives” fresh off the page of a Danielle Steele novel, and Christian Taylor as unwilling marriage suitor Slender, the play’s ‘Nancy boy’ dressed as an unholy cross between Andy Warhol and Lyle Lovett, all entertain and honor the text. Aaron Roberts as love besotted, murderous French physician Dr. Caius and Michael Johnson as meddling Irish priest Hugh Evans interject yet another layer of utter silliness into the play, along with managing understandable ‘furrin'”accents. Bradley Campbell is perfectly cast as unbearably pompous, self-impressed John Falstaff; a master of nuanced delivery and physical comedy, his well-honed skills work handily with director Moreno’s over-the-top vision.
The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Shakespeare Dallas’ Artistic Director Raphael Parry, presents equally compelling potential for an Old West realization and is handsomely mounted. Directed as a farcically light melodrama, the production struggles to find a modicum of balance between stylized physicality and more serious themes. A darker play dealing with multi-layered human emotion and issues, Shrew loses impact enacted as a farce. Kate’s capitulation speech at Act II’s conclusion felt particularly awkward with this treatment; Kate (Lydia Mackay) appeared ill at ease throughout the production. Petruchio’s distractingly odd costume as the Easter Bunny in the wedding scene in no way enhanced the play or helped in his character’s development. The choice seemed inserted for cute effect, not for coherence or plot illumination. Ian Leson made an intriguing, laid back, Petruchio in his sexy Paladin black attire, minus typical bluster and fury. I would have preferred viewing him in a production where the dramatic co-existed with the comic. It was pleasant to see the ingénue role of Bianca played with piquancy and spunk by the well-cast Danielle Pickard, instead of sappy compliancy; her Bianca also seemed better suited to a different production. It’s an attractive presentation even if the style fights the play’s sense.
Shakespeare Dallas rides again and proves that it’s worth enduring an evening of lawn sittage, excessive perspiration and bug spray for a healthy dose of The Bard.
The Merry Wives of Windsor TX runs Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays through July 24. The Taming of the Shrew runs Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through July 25 at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre off Grand Avenue in Dallas.
Tickets: http://www.shakespearedallas.org, 214-559-2778
PHOTO: Constance Gold Parry, Bradley Campbell, Kateri Cale in The Merry Wives of Windsor TX
Review as submitted to lakewood-now.net