Review: Final days of masterful ‘Shrew’; Utah Shakespeare Festival

Brian Vaughn, left, as Petruchio and Melinda Pfundstein, right, as Katherine in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of "The Taming of the Shrew," Adams Shakespearean Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, circa summer 2015 | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

REVIEW – When looking beneath the surface of William Shakespeare’s works, if you open your mind to what he means by what he says and the way he says it, you begin to see a whole new world; you just have to wade – and sometimes swim – through the language of Old English to find it.

Shakespeare’s world is at once vastly different from ours and yet, in fundamental ways, entirely the same. In bringing this world to life for modern audiences, the Utah Shakespeare Festival never fails to deliver the goods. No matter what you choose to experience from among the festival’s plethora of offerings, you come away with a lingering hunger for more.

Melinda Pfundstein, left, as Katherine and Natasha Harris as Bianca in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of "The Taming of the Shrew," Cedar City, Utah, circa 2015 | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News
Melinda Pfundstein, left, as Katherine and Natasha Harris, right, as Bianca in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” Adam’s Shakespearean Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, circa summer 2015 | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

I went to a performance of “The Taming of the Shrew” with notebook and pencil in hand, and I barely got in a scribble before I was caught up and swept away in the story, never to return.

“The Taming of the Shrew” starts off tamely enough, as Shakespeare sets the stage for his story by introducing the characters, starting with two young, adventuresome students who have just arrived in Padua.

As they look out at the view from their balcony, students witness a raging conflict between two spoiled and pampered sisters who are as different as night and day. Natasha Harris plays the fair-haired Bianca, seemingly demure, who is defending herself against the other sister: a feisty, red-haired fireball named Katherine, spectacularly played by Melinda Pfundstein.

Bianca can’t be married until her older sister, Katherine, or Kate, has become a bride. Brian Vaughn gives an unequaled performance as Petruchio, the wise and masterful suitor who has come to find a rich wife and is immediately intrigued when informed of the tigress Kate, who has the reputation of being a shrew – but with a substantial dowry to offset that vice.

Brian Vaughn, left, as Petruchio and Melinda Pfundstein as Katherine in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of "The Taming of the Shrew," Cedar City, Utah, circa 2015 | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News
Brian Vaughn, left, as Petruchio and Melinda Pfundstein, right, as Katherine in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” Adams Shakespearean Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, circa summer 2015 | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

The seemingly overly self-confident Petruchio wastes no time in setting off to present himself to Kate’s father, Baptista, as his daughter’s future husband; and Petruchio quickly and unexpectedly announces to Baptista that he and Kate will be married the following Sunday.

From the moment our hero and heroine meet, sparks fly that result in a firestorm. Like an Olympic tennis match, Kate and Petruchio verbally return shot for shot, with Petruchio returning a neutralizing compliment to every venomous serve from Kate. It’s all part of his cleverly formed reformation plan for “the Shrew.”

I was riveted as the two equally-armed opponents matched wits and strategies to see who would win the war of the sexes; but I was even more caught up in how they came to a seemingly impossible win-win outcome to their conflict, bringing down the house when the shrew had, indeed, been tamed.

There is never a lag or even a chance to catch your breath as you are carried along in the action between man and wife. In time, they come to a meeting of the minds and hearts, with the end result a stunning triumph for both Petruchio and his Kate as she chooses compromise, unity, peace and love over fighting.

Like any theatrical work, “Shrew” is only as good as its characters, and the entire cast was exceptional.

Brian Vaughn, left, as Petruchio and Melinda Pfundstein as Katherine in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of "The Taming of the Shrew," Cedar City, Utah, circa 2015 | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News
Brian Vaughn, left, as Petruchio and Melinda Pfundstein, right,  as Katherine in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” Adams Shakespearean Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, circa summer 2015 | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy of Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

Last year, some of my granddaughters experienced the Utah Shakespeare Festival for the first time. They saw “Twelfth Night” and felt it was so awesome and hilarious that they wanted to watch it all over again immediately, so they went home and looked up a version on the Internet, assuming it would be just like the one they had seen. What a disappointment – nothing like!

It is hard, if not impossible, to top the humor, emotion and energy that flows in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s unique performances.

Only two weeks remain to catch “The Taming of the Shrew” in the festival’s Adams Shakespearean Theatre before the theater closes its doors forever, making way for the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.

Closing nights in the Adams Theatre will be Sept. 3-5, with performances of “The Taming of the Shrew,” “King Lear” and “Henry IV Part Two.” Special commemorations on those final nights will highlight the many memories and shows that have been produced in the theater.

Written by Kathleen Baber, St. George News

Event details

  • What: “The Taming of the Shrew”
  • When: Continues through Sept. 5
  • Where: Adams Shakespearean Theatre at Southern Utah University, 299 W. Center St., Cedar City
  • Admission: Ticket prices vary | Purchase tickets online | Box office: 800-PLAYTIX (435-586-7878)
  • Information: Utah Shakespeare Festival website | Email

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