The beauty of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival is that the setting is so unimaginably dramatic that the play itself seems almost as if it’s merely a part of a vast background. That is until one of the players blunders through your seats and falls on top of the person next to you.
“Taming of the Shrew” | Select dates until Aug. 25
“Million Dollar Quartet” | Select dates until Aug. 23
Showcase Series | Mondays until Aug. 19
Sand Harbor State Park | East Shore
It’s this sort of 21st Century Renaissance improvisation up close and personal that brings you swiftly back to the play at hand: “The Taming of the Shrew.”
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I always love a Shakespeare play delivered in the manner in which the sagacious bard intended it to be delivered: for the pleasure of the audience. With everything happening in the swirling chaos of information that is our modern-day reality, it feels good to watch a sunset while a bunch of people act like fools on a stage below you.
Someone should give costume designers Leah Piehl and Lauren Roark a medal for how gosh-darned fun they make this year’s effort at the legendary amphitheater. Right from the beginning, a jovial Jeffrey C. Hawkins as Gremio is dancing like a troll in a funny red cap while Hortensio (Eric Damon Smith) and Lucentio (Ethan Albert Hennes) prance around in what look like vintage polka-dot ski jumpers from the 70s, by which I mean the 1570s. They both intend to wed the beautiful Bianca played by a Zooey Deschanel doppelganger Mandie Jenson, who delves deeper and deeper into the hilarious irony of her role as the outlandish farce goes on.
Of course, before the haplessly foiled Baptista (Steve Pickering) will betroth Bianca, he first must see her acid-tongued, older sister Katherine happily married, portrayed by the strong, powerful Jessika Williams in her Lake Tahoe premiere. It almost seems as if the whole point of the play is for the rest of the troupe to break down Kate and eventually make her smile.
In spite of all this wondrous entertainment, I find myself gazing out beyond the stage to the splendor that is Lake Tahoe. There’s a Creamsicle sunset drifting down the 8,840-foot whale-backed Herlan Peak that guards over wispy pink clouds and a perfectly lapping harbor as Brewer’s blackbirds flock between the towering pines.
You figure old Herlan must be laughing himself by the time the lights go down and a magnificent Jonathan Dyrud appears as Petruchio. He stole the show as Banquo in last year’s “Macbeth” and would do so again if it weren’t for his humble servant, Grumio, portrayed by an absolutely, laugh-your-socks-off, hilariously wacky Joe Wegner in burgundy tights, a purple trouncer’s hat and what can only be classified as a tiny tutu made of white linen. Before long he’s wrapped up in an Afghan carpet, wagging his wicked tongue like a Maori rugby player, lifting weights and spraying deodorant on his master’s crotch. I feel like I’m watching a young Robin Williams in his prime.
Although Andy Nagraj as the amusingly incompetent Biondello proves to be the true master of the one-liner, the only person who really gives Wegner a run for his money joke for joke would have to be Sara Griffin as the insanely funny Merchant, who puts on a ridiculously stereotypical and out-of-place Italian accent while attempting to impersonate Petruchio’s father, Vincentio (Mic Matarese).
For his entrance into the second act, Wegner stumbles out of the sound booth and down my row, stepping on people’s toes and griping about the bathroom lines until he nosedives into an unsuspecting family. Next thing you know he’s jogging up the slope to the top of the amphitheater claiming it be Mount Everest. On his way back down, he runs into a couple returning late to the second act.
“You’re still coming back from the bathroom!” he yells incredulously before flopping onto the stage to a standing ovation.
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t in the script. Neither was the part when a silly Maggie Kettering as Tranio impersonating Lucentio (it’ll make more sense once you see the play) pretends to do an Instagram Boomerang in front the Roman Coliseum. But after all, that’s what makes it a comedy and one of Shakespeare’s finest.
“The Taming of the Shrew” plays on select dates through Aug. 25. | laketahoeshakespeare.com