The Taming of the Shrew Playwright: William Shakespeare. At: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
at the No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood. Phone: 773-347-1109; $20. Runs through: Oct. 4
he firstand biggest"ta-daaa" moment in this adaptation of Shakespeare's venerable romcom occurs right at the top of the first scene, when the commedia-styled players mischievously remove the stage's backdrop to expose the No Exit Café's sheet-glass window, and in doing so, giving us an unobstructed view of Glenwood Avenue, the colorful mural on the El station wall topped by gently swaying foliage, and the ever-changing spectacle of passing cars, trains and pedestrians ( pulling a hearty laugh when Petruchio demands that his bride kiss him, drawing her protest, "Here? In the street?" ) . Throughout the evening, non-verbal buffoonery will spill outside its architectural confines, its perpetrators acknowledging sidewalk spectators as occasion demands.
If the level of delighted surprise induced by that initial invitation could have been sustained for the entire performance, this collaboration of the Theo Ubique and Blindfaiththe latter home to adapter/director Nick Minasaesthetic would have emerged an inarguable success. But Minas overlooks a fatal principle in experiments of this sort, to wit: When re-conceptualizing a classic, write your own script first, and then insert sections of the original text. If the hybrid product is to avoid running the length of two plays, every additional stunt, no matter how cleverly planned or smartly executed, must be balanced by a reduction in the time passed by personnel standin' around talking.
To be sure, a two-and-a-half-hour Shakespeare production can hardly be called protracted, especially when Jeremy Van Meter's and Jenny Lamb's squabbling lovers command the stage during every second of their fiery courtship ( conducted as a pro-wrestling match, courtesy of violence designers R&D Choreography ) and equally tumultuous honeymoon. Many of the physical turns, tooHortensio's rubber-limbed descent from his balcony, the full-company food-fight that crowns the wedding receptionare likewise exemplary. But this brand of clownish ambience mandates a pace that never flags for an instanta task exceeding the stamina of some performers on opening night, making for slow spots bordering precariously on children's theatre. And while this is technically not a musical, closer attention to vocal pitch is necessary to do justice to Ethan Deppe's cleverly crafted songs. Ultimately, playgoers looking to discover what won Theo Ubique its seven Jeffs last spring are advised to allow this flawed production a little settling-in before cataloguing it as representative of its hosts' artistry.