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Who's Afraid of Katherine of Padua? 

Fine cast makes Shrew shine

There's something about Shakespeare's plays that's sometimes hard to get past-they're sort of sexist.

The guys do brave deeds, talk very loudly and usually get the pick of the women they want, while the women, of course, look pretty, speak softly and usually do whatever the men want.

Granted, these works were written four to five centuries ago when the idea of equality among all-not just men-was far from being realized, so we must take Shakespeare's plots in context. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be the teensiest aghast that we continue to find humor in stories and characters that, were we to find parallels to our everyday existence today, we surely would be laughing at a lot less.

On paper, The Taming of the Shrew could be seen as the worst offender. Here is a play whose central plot is about taking a spirited, independent woman and gradually pacifying her through various means of trickery and verbal abuse until she gives in and becomes her husband's docile servant.

But Shakespeare was a clever writer indeed. His characters have more depth than one might at first think, and his stories usually end with lessons learned about morality, and most notably, the power of love. The key to "getting it" is listening to the words and, hopefully, finding performers and directors who get it, too.

Fortunately, director Drew Barr does get it, and he couldn't have asked for a better cast than the players he's assembled here. The show is truly a funfest from beginning to end with several laugh-out-loud moments and an aw-shucks conclusion that, while bordering on schlock, does leave one with welcome contentment.

As with most of Shakespeare's plays, there's a lot going on here, but suffice it to say, most events tie into one Petruchio (David Anthony Smith) and his pursuit of Katherina (Laura Perrotta), the wily elder daughter of wealthy Padua gentleman Baptista (Richard Klautsch). Katherina opposes marriage to anyone, much to the chagrin of her sister Bianca's many suitors. Baptista won't let anyone marry Bianca (Sara Bruner) before Katherina is wed.

Petruchio eventually breaks through Katherina's gruff exterior to find the lovely person beneath, and the pair discovers a surprising mutual love and respect. Credit is due Smith and Perrotta for effectively bringing those emotions to the surface and keeping their characters' relationship from descending into one of a wife's simple subservience to her husband's whims.

There are too many funny scenes to list here, but it's worth mentioning a few of the actors to watch. Smith's inspired comic presence is only enhanced by his outrageous costumes. In one, he resembles Crocodile Dundee, while another has him looking like a pirate searching for someone to walk the plank. Jeffrey Hawkins is a delight as Tranio, a servant to one of Bianca's suitors, Lucentio (Tom Willmorth). Mark Anthony Taylor turns in an enjoyable Three Stooges-like performance as the much-knocked-around Grumio, one of Petruchio's servants. Other notable performers include Lynn Berg as the slightly pathetic Hortensio; and Tom Ford, chewing the scenery as Gremio.

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