There is almost always a subtext of sexual politics whenever Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" is staged.
Actors discuss the ramifications of some of their seemingly sexist lines, directors are peppered with anxious questions ("Are you really going to have him ... ?" "Will she go along with that man's demands ... ?")
And audiences, dressed warm and in their lawn-sitting duds, will engage in shared smiles, eye rolls, shoulder punches and other editorial displays as "Shrew," presented by the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, plays through July 13 at Pleasanton's Amador Valley Community Park (the free traveling production then moves on to parks in Cupertino, Redwood City and San Francisco).
That's why it's so much fun to see an outdoor production of Shakespeare's battle of the sexes -- you get a much better vantage point than you would in an indoor theater of how the audience reacts to the ongoing grudge match between Petruccio and Katherina.
Director Rebecca J. Ennals, who is also artistic director of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, says some contemporary questions are explored in this production, but she's reluctant to reveal much more about the show.
"Is it a feminist rallying cry? A sexist throwback? A bit of both?" she asks, while offering no answers. But she says the production does feature the rarely included Christopher Sly play-within-a-play sequence, in which the drunken character gets pushed around by women, is the butt of a gag and serves as a foil to Petruccio. The real play begins as the tale of two sisters -- Katherina and her younger sibling Bianca, who already has suitors and looks forward to matrimony. But their father, Baptista, has vowed that Bianca shall not wed until Katherina, who has no interest in marriage, strolls down the aisle.
Her outright revulsion of marriage and the attempts of Petruccio and Bianca's suitors to find her a mate create much of the humor in the show.
"The Taming of the Shrew," plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in Pleasanton. The production includes a half-hour "green show" -- offering details and context about "Shrew" -- before the play. Audience members are encouraged to picnic and bring warm clothes for the show, considered suitable for the entire family.
For more information on the production, go to www.sfshakes.org.
"THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA": The Tennessee Williams play is presented by San Leandro Players Production and directed by Jackie Black. The tale of desire, despair, courage and redemption at a Mexican resort plays July 19 through Aug. 17 at the San Leandro Museum/Auditorium. Tickets are $20; 510-895-2573, www.slplayers.org.
"SHREK, THE MUSICAL": The stage adaptation of the DreamWorks hit comedy opens July 19 in Livermore's Bankhead Theatre. This musical has funny stuff for all ages and follows an ogre with an attitude, who, aided by a wisecracking donkey, journeys to help get a host of fairy tale characters their homes back. The Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre production plays through Aug. 3; tickets are $23 to $38 at 925-373-6800 or www.mylvpac.com.
"LES MISÉRABLES": The musical about the masses rising up against cruel oppressors -- which seems to be almost always playing somewhere -- opens the Woodminster Summer Musicals season July 11 at Oakland's Joaquin Miller Park.
The show focuses on the fate of Jean Valjean, released from prison after 19 years of unjust incarceration, and his dogged pursuit by police inspector Javert. The show plays through July 20; tickets are $26 to $59 and may be reserved at 510-531-9597 or www.woodminster.com.
"MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL": The musical comedy about what, in polite conversation, my mother and aunt would call "The Change" has proved itself very popular. It visits Livermore's Bankhead Theater for four performances July 10 to 12. Tickets are $48 to $68 and may be reserved at 925.373.6800 or www.mylvpac.com.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.
See Pat Craig's review of "The Taming of the Shrew" at www.mercurynews.com/theater.