By MARTY CLEAR
Jobsite Theater has a history of having fun with Shakespeare. From a bloody production of Titus Andronicus back in the company's early days, through its reworking of Pericles a couple of years ago, Jobsite has staged energetic versions of the Bard's plays.
That tradition continues with The Taming of the Shrew. Like the others, it's amped up and irreverent without being disrespectful.
It's staged in modern dress and revels in silliness and slapstick. It's spotty, but works more often than it doesn't. At Sunday's matinee, about half the audience gave it a standing ovation; the other half gave it sincere applause but stayed seated.
Shrew is technically a play-within-a-play, and Brian Smallheer's set adds a neat gimmick. The set is a plain wooden platform and a couple of arches, and it's open at the back. The audience can see the backstage area, where actors are changing costumes or simply sitting quietly awaiting their next entrance. It's not at all distracting, and adds an interesting and tastily unconventional flavor.
So does the sound design, heavy with old Runaways and Joan Jett songs between scenes, by David M. Jenkins. Jenkins also directs.
A little Shakespeare experience, or at least a skim of an online plot synopsis, might be helpful. At times, mostly in the early going, the cast falls into the common trap of trying to boost the energy with frenetic pacing instead of careful comic timing. Add to that the dense language that doesn't sound natural to modern ears and a Byzantine story full of switched identities, and the proceedings can be hard to follow.
Worse, the beauty of the language sometimes gets lost it in the rushed delivery. The opening scene, just as an example, is so rushed it's hard to discern individual words, let alone feel the poetry or catch the meaning.
But still, the production ends up being a lot of fun, thanks mostly to the cast. Though some of the performances are uneven, every member of the nine-person cast (mostly Jobsite regulars) has truly great moments, and the physical comedy is spot-on throughout.
Shawn Paonessa is a clear standout as Petruchio, who courts and "tames" the obnoxious Katherina (Katrina Stevenson). Paonessa takes obvious pleasure in his role and gives depth to his character. Besides, Shakespeare's words sound gorgeous when he speaks them.
Stevenson, Amy E. Gray (in several smaller roles) and Michael C. McGreevey as Baptista also do exceptional work. The rest of the cast — Jason Vaughan Evans, Katie Castonguay, Spencer Meyers, Jon Gennari and Tia Jemison — all take on multiple roles with aplomb.
By far the biggest laugh in the play comes late in the show, with a little trick that Shakespeare could have never imagined. It won't be spoiled here, but it's a neat little device that shows that the Jobsite people had a lot of fun putting this production together.