And how the cast goes on! Joe Palmieri, whose regular appearances at the Rep are always an occasion for rejoicing, plays Grumio, Petruchio's long-suffering servant. His astonishment at the pain Petruchio inflicts on him in the course of taming his wife is the best of the production's running gags. Corey Behnke, in his debut at the Rep, makes Biondello, Lucentio's other servant, the play's second best running gag. Whit Reichert's Curtis is a witty cameo. And there's a gang of young people from the Webster University Conservatory -- John Carlos Cantu, Quin Gresham, Ben Nordstrom and Faith Sandberg, plus high-schooler Gabriel Levinson -- who might think about keeping the gang together and doing some sort of Marx Brothers-type physical-comedy routine.

John Ezell's set is almost a character in the production, so active is it. It has its own motion -- flags and banners, furniture moving here and there at rapid speed, the courtyard of a city dwelling morphing into the great hall of a country manor, even running water. Its bright primary colors, when lit, make anything that happens on or in front of it comic per se. When the lights dim for interior scenes, the bright colors go dark, too, and the effect is almost sinister -- a dungeon dark and drear for Katherina's humiliation. Mary Jo Dondlinger, who designed the lighting, and Ezell seem to work and play very well together.

Dorothy Marshall Englis' costumes are also worth noticing, for they are both very attractive and very interesting. Costuming a play set in the English Renaissance must be fun to begin with -- velvet, hoops, tight bodices, even bustles for the women; doublets and hose, rich gowns, continued on page 63continued from page 60boots and leather for the men. But the costumes for this production substantially illuminate the characters. All the principals, save the servants, are rich, so many costume changes are appropriate. When Tranio, for instance, changes from servant's clothing to assume his master's identity, his new costume is indeed rich but a little too gaudy for a real gentleman. Petruchio's fantastical attire for his wedding day -- worn to bother his easily angered wife -- would cause a more levelheaded person to smile, for though it's crazy it's also fun, and Rensenhouse looks good wearing it, and once Katherina has seen the light, she will remember it with fondness and amusement. The Rep consistently does Shakespeare and other theatrical classics with tremendous elan, and when it pulls out all the theatrical stops for a production, it tends to make Lloyd Weber's sets and costumes seem feverish, overwrought and overwhelming.

This production of The Taming of the Shrew would be an ideal introduction to Shakespeare for younger people: An intelligent 8-year-old would have no trouble following the plot and enjoying the movement. Older, more world-weary folk will enjoy seeing it made new so winningly. And everyone should enjoy a play that ends with a sense that Katherina and Petruchio will live happily ever after. The Mikado correctly observes, "Virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances," but that's as good a reason to go see The Taming of the Shrew as any other around -- if, that is, any excuse is needed.

-- Harry Weber

By Tina McElroy Ansa; adapted by Ralph E. Greene
Unity Theatre Ensemble

When all a husband can say at his wife's funeral is, "Esther Lovejoy's life speaks for itself," you figure there must be a story behind it. Tina McElroy Ansa tells that story in her novel Ugly Ways. Tiresomely familiar battle-of-the-sexes and conflict-of-the-generations stuff forms the framework of the story. But by telling much of it from Esther's posthumous point of view, Ansa enlivens the oft-told tale with wicked humor.

At least, that's how it works when Esther speaks in the person of Thomasina Clarke, as she did last weekend at the Unity Theatre Ensemble. Clarke can be a devastatingly funny performer, but she can also devastate you by showing you the pain and the strength that drive Esther to her unique perspective on life. And the audience the night I was there laughed uproariously at the jokes, smart enough to see that the humor gave depth and significance to what could otherwise be a painfully banal story.

Ralph E. Greene, who both adapted and directed Ugly Ways, emphasizes in his director's comments that he's using the techniques of reader's theater; he hasn't turned the novel into a play. That's important to remember as you listen to a character narrate a scene from the family's past life that could make exciting theater if dramatized. Keep in mind what the company is trying to do, and you may not be disappointed by what they don't do.

Some of the actors, like Clarke and C. Andre Jennings, who plays her husband, and Sophia Mulligan, who plays the middle daughter, are equally effective whether narrating or acting. Others, like Andrea Smythe as the oldest daughter and Vickie Hubbard as the youngest, do better when they can sink their teeth into a dramatic scene -- Hubbard has some especially powerful moments. Bill Murphy's sets and Mark Schilling's lighting help the action flow easily and clearly.

-- Bob Wilcox

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