The Taming of the Shrew
Bare Theatre @ Common Ground Theater
Through Oct. 11

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Cary Players @ Bond Sertoma Amphitheater
Through Oct. 10

I’m on the record. I’ve stated that we’ve seen excellence at all levels of theatrical practice in this region: The best of our college, independent and community-based productionsand most local groups manage to blur at least two of the three categoriesmatch the sophistication found in our very small handful of professional houses.

But while it’s unavoidable that we see work on stage that’s not really prepared for critical review, there’s little to be gained by mowing down the deer in the headlights on the stage in our critical SUV.

This week, two local companies are presenting Shakespeare plays: The Taming of the Shrew by Bare Theatre and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Cary Players. In the past, we’ve applauded both companiesBare Theater, in particular, for a minimal approach to Shakespeare that’s put the spotlight on imaginative direction and actingbut it’s been awhile since we’ve seen work by either group.

This time out, both shows were hit-or-miss, as seasoned directors Heather J. Hackford in Shrew and comic maven Nancy Rich in Dream hadn’t fully girded their beginners’ loins by opening night. So, what to do?

If the shows were free, it might be tempting to be a bit more careless with the compliments. But with ticket prices falling in the range of regular or discount show tickets at a number of the region’s best independent companies, there’s at least the specter of implied marketability. Unfortunately, obvious shortcomings in both preclude favorable comparison with the best work on the region’s indie scene. Although Bare Theater’s Shrew was substantively more functional than Cary’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, the delectable Rude Mechanicals, who perform the deliberately bad show-within-a-show, had us yearning through the night for its climax in Act V, Scene 1. Del Flack’s distaste as Peter Quince for the excesses of Tony Hefner’s Bottom was only exceeded by his stage fright-inspired thousand-yard-stare. The evening air was illuminated by more than mere glimmers of talent from Ruth Berry’s ditzy happy-camper Snugand Shelly Twigg’s comic Helena, and Lucretia Bell’s Hermia, for that matter. We’d encourage themalong with Puck’s Jaret Preston and Lysander’s Derek Taylor, among the rest unnamed: Keep working. Get more training. And study with a variety of directors. To Ms. Rich, we’d say the concept of a Bollywood Dream was interesting, but beyond the abilities of much of the present cast.

The story, to a lesser extent, remains the same for the contingent of Bare Theatre’s Taming of the Shrew, as director Hackford asks her novices to do some fairly heavy lifting in selected supporting roles. But if you skip it, you’ll pass up some pretty decent clowning and physical comedy served up by sound designer G. Todd Bukerwho apparently belongs on stage as welland Brook North in the roles of the hapless servants Grumio and Biondello. The nascent work that we’d encourage in this production involved Jason Bailey as Lucentio, Kacey Reynolds’ portrayal of Tranio, Richard Butner’s Gremio and servants J.R. Aiello and Jeff Buckner. Hackford should also note that while it’s obvious that Jennifer Neale and Matthew Schedler have the ability to play the lead roles of Katherine and Petruchio, too many too-safe character choices kept both from truly achieving escape velocity. When it comes to these characters, “safe” should be the last word on our minds.