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Love, sex, courtship, marriage, tradition, anger, money, power, deceit, and ribald slapstick humor: Shakespeare included all these elements in this comedy to challenge his audiences to think as well as laugh. Here his signature cutting humor is focused on marriage, lampooning not only upper-class arranged couplings, but also his society's growing concern with women who challenged a husband's primacy. Curiously he ends the play by including a message that only reinforces the very misogynistic behavior he ridicules.

The eldest daughter of a wealthy widow, Katharine, aka the Shrew, is known as an angry, foulmouthed creature, willing to fight any man who tries to tame her. And Mary Le Gault delivers all the vim and vigor we could want in the Shrew. Transitioning to the emotionally tamed Katharine, however, her performance falls a bit flat. But perhaps that's an unavoidable consequence of comparing Katharine's two sides. It would take an arrogant, cunning, and ruthless man to break this fiery wench. Enter Petruccio, a hard-drinking womanizer who's set his sights on the Shrew and her immense dowry. Karl Wade's portrayal of Petruccio is superb, giving Katharine as good as he gets, until he vanquishes her spirit. Erin Kelly Gallagher hits just the right note as Bianca, Katharine's mild-mannered and beautiful younger sister who can't marry until her elder sibling does. Bianca's charms and beauty capture the heart of Lucentio, a rich young man, played with a deft touch and engaging energy by Jonathan Rau. Also first-rate are Michelle Morain as Baptista—here a haughty regal mother—and Robert Saberhagen as Grumio, the faithful drunken servant of Petruccio. Peter Kjenaas' timing and fast-paced direction keeps this production humming along.

"The Taming of the Shrew," presented by Focus Central Repertory Theatre at the El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri. 7:30 p.m. Sep. 23., Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m., Sep. 17-Oct. 2. $15-20. (866) 811-4111.

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