IF YOU GO
What: Modern-day adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew" set in a wealthy, coastal community
When: Now through Jan. 26. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinée on Saturday
Where: Naples Regional Library, 650 Central Avenue
Information: (239) 682-3637 or sipnaples.org
Something Else: Library parking is limited; overflow parking available at Gulfview Middle School directly across First Avenue South.
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
NAPLES — Well, the third time was the charm. In their third year, their third show and their third performance space, Shakespeare in Paradise finally figured out where the Bard of Avon belongs.
In the library, of course.
Forced out of Barron Collier High School, which the group hoped would be a long-term home, Shakespeare in Paradise landed at the Collier County Public Library's Central Avenue branch.
There, in a bare meeting space with no sound system, no lighting other than the room's hazy fluorescents, no backstage and nothing more than simple raised platform, magic happened Thursday night. Their latest production, "The Taming of the Shrew," emerges fresh, funny and fantastic.
Knocked outside the box, director Randall Kenneth Jones and Shakespeare in Paradise founder John McKerrow stripped down, reinvented and re-fashioned theater to fit this minimalist, unforgiving space. (Full disclosure: Jones writes a business column for the Naples Daily News).
The abrupt jolt may have been just what the group needed. Denied the chance to muddy the show with complicated staging, "Shrew" seizes on an ancient connection with an original group of actors that got up in front of the London masses at the Globe Theatre and simply put on a play.
If you flunked Shakespeare in high school (or college), here's the plot of "Shrew." Baptista has two daughters, ill-tempered Katharina and sweet, fair Bianca. Suitors line up for Bianca, but none may wed until spitfire Katharina first finds a husband. Petruchio vows to tame her, while Lucentio plots to woo Bianca.
One of the Bard's earliest comedies, the show has been adapted many times on stage and screen. The 1948 Cole Porter musical "Kiss Me Kate" may be one of the best-known versions; 1999's more modern, high school-set "10 Things I Hate About You" launched the careers of both Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles.
Happily, enough of the true message of "Shrew" survives the trims (McKerrow knows what he's doing). The play shows Katharina evolving, becoming an adult and realizing that marriage is a compromise. Katharine is merely a spoiled brat, not a bad person; Petruchio wants not to dominate her, but to show her the error of her ways.
Jones, a D.C. transplant and active local thespian, makes a splash with his first Southwest Florida directing gig. Here, in a modern update, the action revolves around the bar at the Padua Country Club, Royal Port Estates and the Gator Gas-N-Go. Watch for shout-outs to Slurpees, "Historic Spiff Avenue" and tony "Melissa Boutique."
The Bard, it seems, favors breezy sundresses, popped collars, tropical colors and an alarming amount of hideously bright plaid. In short, this ain't yer granpappy's Shakespeare - the first 30 seconds proves that. Trust me. Wait for it.
"Shrew" makes Shakespeare fun. I laughed out loud multiple times on the night and stifled giggles throughout. It's not just the visual jokes (Karen Frizell Anglin's Bianca in a bikini, lavishing sunscreen on her … assets), Jones grasps the comedy and keeps the show moving at a brisk tempo with lively action.
McKerrow and real-life wife Mary Anne McAvoy McKerrow tangle as Petruchio and Katharina. More play than work for the pair, they obviously adore the spotlight. I love that Mary Anne McKerrow gives Katharina's lines the saucy, knowing tilt they deserve once she discovers the game Petruchio plays. Her Katharina may grow wiser, less contrary - but she may never be "tamed." I do wish the limited space had allowed for a longer, more involved brawl between the pair in the first half; the scene felt stilted and overly choreographed.
Veteran actress Kay Francis brings a delightful, boozy, blowsiness as a gender-switched Baptista Minola, the long-suffering parent of Katharina and Minola. Watch for the bar scene, where Baptisa ignites a bidding war between Biana's suitors; Francis fills - and refills - her cup until Baptista sways on the stool. It's a lovely touch, as is watching her sway onto the stage in the flowing amethyst robes.
Jack Weld again proves his worth as one of the most underrated actors in Southwest Florida. He brings a campy, good-natured, pouting fun to Hortensio, one of Bianca's many suitors. The performance stands out in many ways.
Weld is no stranger to Shakespeare; he's appeared "Romeo & Juliet," "Much Ado About Nothing" and assistant directed the Lab Theater production of "Othello." He doesn't just spit back the lines - he speaks them in a way that emphasizes both the poetry of the prose and the intent of the words. Watch for the scene that sees Anglin's Bianca flirting with her tutors.
McKerrow and Jones obviously faced multiple challenges with the show beyond the demands of staging a production in such a minimalist space. Theatre season is in full swing, limiting the choice of acting talent; most of the minor parts, first-timers and walk-ons are all too obvious.
Neapolitan audiences, especially in such a riotous to-do as "Shrew," are notoriously forgiving; I wish more would-be stars and their directors would seize such an opportunity to go farther with their performances. Full points though to Community School of Naples student Daniel Meeks (Biondello) for a cheeky, spirited, fun-loving performance.
I had hoped that Jones would be able to more fully integrate his metaphorical vision of "The Taming of the Shrew" in Naples within the framework of the show in a manner beyond costumes. Silly visual riffs, like Slurpee cups, a McDonald's bag and outlandish title cards for scene changes, deliver big laughs, yet these don't extend quite far enough. I think this was a great idea (and so did the opening night crowd) - it just needed to go farther.
Mary Anne McKerrow creates a bright, poppy palette with her costumes. Bob Hill's Grumio - outfitted in red and yellow plaid golfer's duds - makes for an amusing sight as he quives his cheeks and goggles his eyes. I love John McKerrow's leather biker outfit - complete with chaps - for the wedding sequence. I do wish some of the hairpieces looked a little less obviously fake, although that may have been the intent.
Afraid of Shakespeare? Don't be. Just as Katharina has been tamed, so hath the imposing rhyming couplets an infernal quatrains of the Bard. This one is all about laughs. Take the kids, take the wife - just don't get any ideas about taming the lady (or the gentleman) in your life!
Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that Jack Weld appeared in the Laboratory Theater Florida production of "Othello." Weld served as assistant director for the show; he did not appear on stage.
Forsooth! Hey you, tell me, have you ever tamed a shrew? Email me, email@example.com. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.
Full disclosure: Randall Kenneth Jones, an actor who has appeared with the Naples Players, Shakespeare in Paradise and the Marco Players, writes a column, titled "Business Class," for the Business section of the Daily News. His firm, MindZoo, has also done marketing, graphics and public relations work for several local theatre companies. Jones was also briefly affiliated with Leadaloft, a now-defunct business website founded by former Naples Daily News publisher Chris Doyle.