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March 11, 2009 > Theater Review: "Kiss Me Kate" at Douglas Morrisson Theater

Theater Review: "Kiss Me Kate" at Douglas Morrisson Theater

By Vidya Pradhan

The misogyny of Shakespeare's play "The Taming of the Shrew" has to have been unpalatable even to the members of the post-war generation fifty years ago. Petruchio, a gentleman from Verona decides to marry Kate, a tempestuous and temperamental beauty, because she is rich. Once they are betrothed, he proceeds to "tame" her by means of various psychological torments till she becomes an obedient and model bride.

Cole Porter, the legendary American composer and songwriter, took the sting out of the anachronistic comedy by setting it as a play within a play. "Kiss Me Kate" is the story of the principals in a touring company who are putting on the Shakespearean play while dealing with their own turbulent love lives, which often spill out to hilarious effect onto the stage.

Fred Graham is the director and lead of a Broadway-bound musical version of "The Taming of the Shrew." He and his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi constantly bicker backstage, concealing underlying feelings of affection. Their off-stage drama is complicated by the presence of Lois Lane, Fred's love interest, who also happens to be crazy about Bill Calhoun, the second lead who is also in trouble due to his gambling habits. The screening of the musical is interrupted by gangsters, ego tantrums and the love complications of the four characters, which make for high comedy.

Douglas Morrison Theater in Hayward puts on a revival of "Kiss Me Kate" from March 6th through March 22nd. The theater, owned and operated by the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, was set up as a medium for high quality theater experiences by amateur performers, bolstered by an extensive costume, scenery and property inventory.

"Kiss Me Kate" lives up to this mission. The performances are excellent, especially by Laurie De Seguirant as Fred/Petruchio and Meghan Doyle as Lois/Bianca. Mr. De Seguirant, who has been awarded "Best Performance By An Actor" nine times, is easily the star of the night, helping smooth out the opening night jitters of some cast members while twinkling, grimacing and singing his way through his two roles as Fred Graham and Petruchio. Pamela Ballin as Lilli Vanessi and the mercurial Kate is a trifle arch but she makes up for it with her clear soprano voice.

The musical talents of Mr. De Seguirant, Ms. Doyle and Ms. Pamela Ballin are undeniable and credit must go to Shauna Shoptaw as the Vocal Director who coaxes beautiful performances of Cole Porter's popular songs like "So in love" and the bawdy "I've come to wive it wealthily in Padua." Ms. Shoptaw also performs as Lilli's dresser Hattie.

The inventive set and lovely period costumes give the finishing touch to this entertaining play and while there were a few rough spots in the opening night performance, they are sure to be ironed out as the show progresses.

"Kiss Me Kate" works because while Kate is manhandled by Petruchio in the inside play, Lilli Vanessi plainly has Fred Graham in thrall and Cole Porter's amazing songs keep the audience laughing throughout. Strangely enough, Shakespeare himself set the story of the shrewish Kate and the devious Petruchio within a play put on by a mischievous lord for his drunken guest, a framing technique called "Induction." Perhaps he was aware of the ire the chauvinistic play would raise among his women audience members too.

Kiss Me Kate
March 6th - March 22nd
Thursday-Saturday: 8 p.m.
Sunday: 2 p.m.
Douglas Morrisson Theater
22311 N. Third Street, Hayward
(510) 881-6777

Adults $25; Seniors $22; Students $15

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