With Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" probably the Bard's best (yep, there are others; that's just my opinion), bawdiest and fiercest comedy on the battle of the sexes, it's not a bad place to look at cross-gender and -ethnic casting of women and people of color in roles generally assigned to men.

And that's exactly what San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's artistic director Rebecca Ennals is doing with this summer's production of "Shrew" as the company's touring Free Shakespeare in the Park offering opens 7:30 p.m. June 29 at Amador Valley Community Park in Pleasanton.

Many of the roles, in fact, have been cast in this way. But Ennals spent months attending shows to see performers of various ethnicities work and be invited to audition along with more traditional performers.

"I went about it by really trying to see a diversity of performers, and we ended up with at least one or more actors of color auditioning for each role," she said, "so I really feel we saw the best we could."

The effort was much more than finding a few minority actors and putting them in roles, Ennals added, saying that in most of the auditions, the best actor got the role.

Her efforts were prompted after attending a conference, where this kind of casting was discussed and several people complained about not being able to find a good array of minority actors.

"Then there was a group of minority actors there, and they said, 'We're here, we're here,' but the truth is, we have to make more of an effort," said Ennals. "I think things were better for casting the show by taking more time and care with our additions."


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Two roles that will be cast traditionally are those of Petruccio and Kate, the two feuding lovers at the center of the story. There were plenty of female actors who were eager to audition for Petruccio, but Ennals said she just couldn't do it that way, although there have been a number of productions mounted with a woman playing Petruccio, the swaggering suitor who exudes machismo throughout his courtship/battle with Kate.

"I mean, that's what it's all about," she said.

The traditional casting also leads to a delightful conclusion Shakespeare left open to interpretation, with dialogue offering various shades of meaning. In her blog, Annals promised a feminist telling of the story, but exactly what she plans must be seen.

There are plenty of opportunities to see "Shrew" throughout the summer, beginning with the June 29 opening in the park at Santa Rita Road and Black Avenue. It will continue there at 7:30 Saturdays and Sundays through July 13.

And from there: Cupertino's Memorial Park Amphitheater, Stevens Creek Boulevard and Mary Avenue, beginning July 19 and continuing Fridays through Sundays through Aug. 3; Sequoia High School, 1201 Brewster Ave., Redwood City, 7:30 p.m., Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, Aug. 9-24; the San Francisco Presidio, Main Post Parade Ground Lawn, between Graham Street and Keyes Avenue, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Aug. 30-Sept. 14, plus a 2 p.m. Labor Day performance Sept. 1; and the final performances in the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, McLaren Park, 450 John F. Shelley Drive, San Francisco, with 2 p.m. performances Sept. 20-21.

MADs ABOUT BROADWAY: This concert features two-time Grammy Award winning violinist Mads Tolling and a special guest, cabaret great Wesla Whitfield.

The show features a program of solos and duets from each performer, including the music of Rodgers & Hart, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and others.

Tolling, a violinist, singer and composer, was a member of the Turtle Island Quartet and travels regularly throughout the world as a jazz violinist. San Francisco-based singer Whitfield, perhaps best-known as an interpreter of the Great American Songbook, has a number of bestselling recordings and is a frequent performer at cabarets locally and throughout the country.

The show is at 2 p.m. June 8 in the Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. Tickets, at $15 to $25 may be reserved at 925-931-4848 or www.firehouseartscenter.org.

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.