As much as we would like to see ourselves as reflecting human perfection, we don't (in case you were wondering), and we never have. That's probably why we continue to have a near-morbid fascination with plays like Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew."

It will be around most of the summer because it's this year's offering in San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's Free Shakespeare in the Park program, which every summer brings a free production on a tour of outdoor venues throughout the Bay Area.

"The fact is, this is a sexist play," wrote Rebecca J. Ennals, S.F. Shakespeare's artistic director and director of "Shrew." "It was written at a time when husbands were the heads of their households and women lacked many basic human rights, and the world of the play reflects those values."

So this production of "Shrew" is a couple of hours of Bard bashing, right?

Oh God, no. Despite her best contemporary sensibilities, Ennals has worked quite hard to give a fair and clear interpretation of the play and the time in which it was written (late 16th century). She even includes parts of a play-within-a-play, which is broadly funny and expresses another opinion of the time.

What she gives us is an impressive, smash-bang, wildly funny, occasionally gender-bending, slapstick wild ride of a comedy.

It doesn't hurt that she's working with an amazing cast, which is not only jam-packed with talent but well-schooled in the ping-pong-balls-on-ice fast-paced style that is a big part of the production.


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Working as one big crazy ensemble, the cast crashes off the stage and through the fourth wall, meaning that at times, theatergoers find the acting unfolding right next to them.

Katherina (Carla Pantoja) and her intended suitor Petruccio (Tim Kniffin) grudgingly battle their way toward the altar, with neither giving an inch. The romance means a great deal to many people, since Katherina's father, Baptista (Jesse Caldwell), has decreed that she must wed before her popular younger sister, Bianca (Monica Ho), is allowed to walk the aisle. And Bianca and her beau, Lucentio (David E. Moore), have begun to plan for their wedding. They are the exact opposites of Kate and Petruccio and could win the cutest couple award in any high school yearbook.

Kate and Petruccio's many battles drive the tension higher and higher. At times throughout the play, Kniffin takes the role of Christopher Sly, hero of a play-within-a-play and the victim of a cruel joke, in which he is converted from a drunken stumblebum into a version of Petruccio by members of an acting troupe.

The play-within-a-play segment, usually omitted from contemporary "Shrew" productions, has an impact on the image we hold of Petruccio. Well-played by Kniffin, it is a nice addition to the production.

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.

'THE TAMING
OF THE SHREW'
By William Shakespeare, presented by San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's Free Shakespeare in the Park
When & Where: Playing through July 13 at Pleasanton's Amador Valley Community Park, then moving to parks in Cupertino, Redwood City and San Francisco
Running time: 2 hours,
45 minutes
Tickets: free;
www.sfshakes.org