Frog & Peach Theatre Company, “a brave company that is a jewel of Off-Broadway” (Ronald Gross, NY Theater Buying Guide), will present a Felliniesque vision of Padua in its production of “The Taming of the Shrew” from October 11 to November 4 at the West End Theater, 263 West 86th Street. Artistic Director Lynnea Benson directs. The classic will be set in Italy in the early 1960s in order to comment on the effect of social class and money today: how they affect love, both romantic and filial.
Ms. Benson explains that Shakespeare probably wanted to make similar statements about contemporary English society and set the play in Italy because of the stereotype that Italians expressed themselves emotionally better than his countrymen. The conceit still works for Benson, who would hold a mirror up to New York society today by setting “Shrew” in a Felliniesque Padua of the early 1960s. It’s a period when Italy’s horrible days of World War II were finally past; the old ways were still there but there was a return of pleasure and the enjoyment of luxurious things.
In this setting, she can comment on the the “eternal students” of the Upper West Side, who remain tied to their parents’ luxury rather than go out on their own, and to the sex games that young women play in our time in our city. Baptista Minola is changed from the father of Katherina and Bianca to their mother, making her a fit companion to the Widow, with both women plowing gustily through their late husbands’ money and enjoying life as best they can.
The rest of the principals remain more or less true to their Shakespearean origins. Petruchio (Erick Gonzales) is a bit rough around the edges, a Paduan version of a proud midwesterner newly come to New York today. Katherina (Any Frances Quint) is rebellious against the hypocritical world she has been born into and has isolated herself with her impulsive and shocking protests. Her sister, Bianca (Alexandra Poncelet Del Sole) has the face of a lamb but the heart of a snake. Hortensio, (Eric Doss), a suitor whose lust has blinded him to her faults, is played to broad comic effect as a cross between Cary Grant and Tony Randall.
Benson says, “Petruchio if from a well-to-do background but his house has fallen into party-central disarray. He needs someone who cares in his life. He rescues Katherina as much as she rescues him-from his fiercely independent bachelorhood.” To illustrate how money is the principal tie that binds, she notes how Lucentio’s servants are actually closer to his father, Vincentio, than they are to Lucentio himself.
Frog and Peach Theatre Company (www.frogandpeachtheatre.org), now in its sixteenth season, is one of the Upper West Side’s most under-appreciated Shakespeare resources. It was co-founded by Ted Zurkowski and Lynnea Benson – both lifetime members of The Actors Studio- and is dedicated to bringing Shakespeare’s plays in a way that is thrilling, fast-paced, true to the text, and startlingly relevant to modern audiences. Director Lynnea Benson has directed over two dozen Shakespeare productions for Frog and Peach including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Twelfth Night,” “Cymbeline,” “Macbeth,” “As You Like It” (with Sidney Williams and Emmy-winner Camryn Grimes) “Richard III” (starring Anatol Yusef of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire); “Hamlet” (with Austin Pendleton as Claudius and The Ghost); “Richard II” (with Mr. Pendleton as Richard), “Macbeth” with Jason Kuschner in the title role, “The Merchant of Venice” and “King John” (with Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno as Blanche). Ms. Benson is Artistic Director and co-founder of Frog and Peach.
Last season, the company presented a memorable production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the West End Theater. NY Theater Buying Guide (Ronald Gross) deemed it “One of the best theater bargains in New York City!” Frog and Peach was called “a brave company that is a jewel of Off-Broadway” and the production was praised as “overflowing with delicious performances.” Gross elaborated, “Lynnea Benson…orchestrates her talented actors with clarity and hilarity – I’ve never seen a production in which the romantic imbroglios of the plot are easier to follow. But she also plumbs the depths of a work that is frightening in its evocation of primal fears and anxieties – of domination and loss of control over oneself and others. The cast is so brimming with talent that each member deserves recognition.”
The actors include J.B. Alexander as Pedant, Alan Altschuler as Vincentio, Ilaria Amadasi as Widow, Brando Boniver as Biondello, Lenny Ciotti as Tranio, Eric Doss as Hortensio, David Elyha as Gremio, Erick Gonzalez as Petruchio, Vivian Landau as Baptista, Alexandra Poncelet Del Sole as Bianca, Amy Frances Quint as Katherina, Jack Sochet as Grumio, Joseph Urick and Philip Oros as Baptista’s personal assistants, Ryan Dreyer as Curtis and Jonathan Reed Wexler as Lucentio.
Music for the production is by Ian McDonald (King Crimson, Foreigner) and Ted Zurkowski. It includes selections from Mr McDonald’s widely acclaimed solo album, “Drivers Eyes,” offering a jazzy, mod take on the sumptuous life of Padua. By turns bright, moody, and exhilarating, these compositions add a distinctly modern dimension to Shakespeare’s timeless romance.
Set design is by Andy Estep. Lighting design is by Duane Pagano. Costume design is by Asa Benally.
The West End Theater is located at 263 West 86th St. (B’way and West End Ave.). “The Taming of the Shrew” will be performed Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM beginning October 11 and running through November 4. General admission tickets are $18.00 and seniors and sudents are admitted for $12. For tickets call SMARTTIX at 212-868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com. The building, theater and its restrooms are all wheelchair accessible.
“The Taming of the Shrew” will be presented in repertory with a series for young audiences, “Tinkerbell Theater,” which adapts Fairy Tales to theater with a “Rocky and Bullwinkle” touch. Two productions, “Cinderella” (adapted from Grimm’s Fairy Tales) and “The Tinderbox” (adapted from Hans Christian Anderson), will be mounted; both are written and directed by Lynnea Benson and feature sing-along songs by Ted Zurkowski and playful puppets by Spica Wobbe. These family productions will take stage October 13 to November 4 on a rotating schedule, Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 AM and 12:30 PM. For complete information, see: www.jsnyc.com/season/tinkerbell.htm.