A wickedly funny, over-the-top rendition of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" opened this past weekend at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda.

Shana Cooper directs a hard-driven, very physical interpretation of Shakespeare's comedy set in a present-day Padua.

The show starts off full speed ahead as the male characters present themselves a la Chippendale dancers with Kate and her younger sister, Bianca, in gold lamé swimsuits.

Exploring the ramifications of a young woman (Kate) educated beyond the domestic arts without parental restraints, Cooper creates a wild, desperate lioness of a character.

An interesting bit of casting has the very petite Erica Sullivan as the raging Kate and the tall, statuesque Alexandra Henrikson as Bianca. (In several scenes Bianca steps into 4-inch blue velvet platforms to send her towering over all the men in the cast.)

Although much smaller than Slate Holmgren (Petruchio), Sullivan has no problem going toe-to-toe with her intended husband. Watch the two of them closely to catch their more subtle exchanges of curiosity followed by admiration and growing affection as they battle using both their wits and their bodies.

Cal Shakes' highly animated production includes a striking ultra modern two-story set by Scott Dougan and fun lighting by York Kennedy.


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Costume designer Katherine O'Neill pulls out all the stops for her creations, including a wildly colored, shirtless suit for Hortensio (Liam Vincent) and an off-the-shoulder sharkskin suit for Gremio (a New Jersey accented, Mafia-styled Danny Scheie, who is also a riot as a dreadlock-coifed tailor).

This explosion of energy continues through Oct. 16. Call 510-548-9666 or go to www.calshakes.org.

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    The Hapgood Theatre Company opened its production of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" at the Willows Campbell Theatre in Martinez this past weekend.

    The story of an overprivileged, self-indulgent family coming to grips with the cultural upheaval in turn-of-the-century Russia is a difficult play to produce.

    Chekhov's halting dialogue and his characters' propensity to talk provides its own challenge for the actors.

    Sylvia Kratins (Lyubov) did a fine job as the mother, easily transitioning between her character's frivolous and more serious moments, with Heather Kellogg (Anya) a breath of sunshine, and Brian O'Conner (Pishchik) adding a welcome levity to the show.

    While many of the other actors had a good grasp of their complex characters, a quicker pacing would have added needed energy to the show.

    "The Cherry Orchard" continues through Oct. 2, at the Campbell Theatre; and then runs Oct. 6-9, at El Campanile Theatre in Antioch.

    For more information, go to www.hapgoodtheatre.org.

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    Danville's Role Players Ensemble has taken on Eugene O'Neill's challenging epic "Mourning Becomes Electra."

    Set in Boston at the end of the Civil War, it is modeled on the Greek myth "Oresteia."

    Artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes has adapted O'Neill's five-hour drama into a more palatable length -- slightly over three hours.

    Portraying the dysfunctional members of the Mannon family in O'Neill's overly dramatic style is not an easy task for actors. But Hayes' talented cast achieves this end for the most part with Sylvia Burboeck marvelous as the unfaithful wife Christine.

    Eden Neuendorf, as her daughter, Lavinia, certainly does a fine job as the revenge-obsessed young woman. I especially liked her in Act III where her character ventures into other emotions besides anger and violence.

    It did take a while for me to see beyond the forced, Katherine Hepburn-like voice she evidently was directed to use to appreciate her acting skills.

    A nice touch was having the ensemble (which acts as a sort of Greek chorus) sing in beautiful harmony during the set changes.

    Designed by Bo Golden and Ryan Terry, the well-conceived set quickly changes from the imposing exterior of the Mannon's home to various interior scenes, as well as a boat. Evocatively lit by lighting designer Chris Guptill, the set also provided a marvelous backdrop for Lisa Danz's gorgeous period costumes.

    "Mourning Becomes Electra" continues through Oct. 1. Call 925-314-3400 or go to www.villagetheatreshows.com.

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    Unfortunately, I must end this column on a sad note.

    Wonderful East Bay actor Chris Chapman lost his valiant fight with lung cancer on Friday, Sept. 23. He passed away quietly in the loving arms of his wife, Sue Trigg.

    Chris was often seen at Danville's Role Players Ensemble where Sue also performed. Chris' many shows at Role Players included "The House of Blue Leaves," "The School for Scandal, "Bus Stop," "Don't Dress for Dinner, and "Wrong Turn at Lungfish."

    While he enjoyed the challenge of playing Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" in Hayward, one of his last roles and his favorite was playing opposite his wife in "Broadway Bound" at Chanticleer's Theatre.

    A memorial celebration is planned. For information, contact me at the email below.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com.