Despite dying 401 years ago, the work of playwright William Shakespeare has continued to endure through centuries better than almost any writer. There's a lot that can be asked as to why, but the answers mostly come when witnessing a live performance of his works. This past weekend, Shakespeare By the Sea kicked off their 20th year in business with both "MacBeth" and "The Taming of the Shrew." Both reflect different sides to the same writer, with the latter falling more on the comedic side. If one must understand Shakespeare's appeal as a populous entertainer, they simply need to witness his clever wordplay and ability to tell grand stories on no more than a stage with one primitive set. What is Shakespeare's appeal? He wrote for the people.
Before the show began, there was plenty that set Shakespeare By the Sea's production of "The Taming of the Shrew" apart. For starters, it remains free (though donations are encouraged) and took place in a public park. The most extemporaneous element was getting there with your own lawn chair and refreshments. Everything else was provided, including raffles and various merchandise. With classical music playing over the speakers, the cast walked around the crowd asking for donations and handed out programs for the show ahead. Considering that it was more of a comical show, the five minute warning featured an introductory loud church bell. With the show playing into the night, it already felt like a festive way to spend an evening.
The story itself is well known: an older sister must be married off so that the younger one can follow her dreams. It's a concept made more charming by the fact that Katharine (Morgan Hill) was played at the right level of shrewish annoyance. There's several asides that provide a winking nudge to the audience on the story's absurdity. Even as the dialogue came fast and often in the confusing yet reverent language of Shakespeare's original production, the audience could enjoy the broad humor on display. With no more than flamboyant costumes and sheer exuberance, the production told a story that spanned many settings and managed to feature people riding horses (which were merely other actors carrying them to and from stage). It was in ways a cheap show, but nothing about the execution felt as such.
More than anything, it is the actors' commitment to the absurdity that keeps the show moving. With a lot of physical gags that included running loudly through the crowd, the show is at least a lively affair, and one that hides the deeper wit of its story. The show's simplicity also reflects what makes these shows so effective. In theory, all it takes is enthusiasm to pull off a show like this, and thankfully the source material elevates it to something worthwhile. Considering that it's free, Shakespeare By the Sea more than deserve credit for making something worth more than the price of admission. Even if you don't know the story well, there's plenty to get out of the show, and hopefully part of that is inspiration to do your own performance.
If you missed the performance, there's still time to catch the production's run through the middle of August. Their goal has been to share live theaters with the community, and the San Pedro-based company has been touring around Southern California to achieve that goal. With a great cast and two memorable shows, it would behoove you to give it a shot if you have the time. It would also be wise to donate a buck or two if your means allow. Much like Shakespeare himself, this company thrives on creativity and presenting shows that they feel matter. All it takes is a little money to get there.
For further information, please visit their website: www.shakespearebythesea.org