Madison Martin had the best seat in the house.
Sure, having the “best seat in the house” is a subjective claim. But, there was no debate on this starry Tuesday night at Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Martin’s seat wasn’t front row, center stage — her seat was near the center, on stage.
If it wasn’t enough to be sitting within arm’s length of the actors, immersed in the energetic, sidesplitting production, Martin was also — ready for this? — part of the performance.
Early in the play, when characters Petruchio and Grumio tussle on the floor, the latter grabbed Martin’s ankles for leverage. Later, when Petruchio tossed a pretzel from a platter, the salted snack (unintentionally) careened toward Martin’s head. She ducked just in time, prompting Grumio to give her noggin a friendly pat.
And then the fourth act came. There, when Tranio, who’s impersonating Lucentio (don’t worry, it’ll all make sense when you see it), says to “call forth an officer,” Martin is literally pulled into the scene to play the role. Yanked from her chair, thrust to center stage, a police helmet put on her head, Martin had all eyes on her — from the characters to the 800-plus attendees — during the climactic scene at Lucentio’s house.
Impressively, the Tahoma resident managed to keep a straight face for her impromptu, minute-long performance as the officer. On the inside, though, she was beaming.
“To be part of the performance, it’s just mind-blowing,” Martin, still beaming, said after the show. “I’m awestruck right now. Everybody in the audience wants to be a part of that. It was a really, really neat experience.”
Martin, who even received a round of applause from the audience during the curtain call, was one of 20 people who had onstage seats during the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival‘s rollicking production of “The Taming of the Shrew” on July 16 at Sand Harbor.
Her mother, Jamie Martin, was seated alongside her, equally awestruck and amused.
“It’s just wonderful,” Jamie said. “Kids need to come and see it; they’d have a blast here.”
Uproarious performances abound
For those uninitiated, “The Taming of the Shrew” tells the story of a wealthy father with two very different daughter problems.
Baptista Minola’s younger daughter, Bianca, is being wooed by three suitors: Hortensio, Germio and Lucentio. Lucentio goes so far as to change identities with his servant, Tranio, in order to get a job as Bianca’s tutor.
Baptista, however, will not allow his youngest to be married until a husband is found for his older daughter, Katherine, a feisty woman who strikes fear in most men she encounters.
Petruchio of Verona accepts the challenge. Visiting his friend Hortensio, Petruchio brazenly takes on taming “the shrew” Katherine to not only help his friend, but also to marry into money.
Naturally, comedy ensues.
Perhaps the funniest moment of this uproarious performance comes when Petruchio, set to marry Katherine despite her defiance, shows up late to their wedding. Played by Jonathan Dyrud, a comedic wrecking ball, Petruchio trudges in shirtless wearing a hilariously hideous outfit: red and yellow cape; purple tights; knee-high boot on one foot, slipper on the other; scuba mask and mouthpiece; and, to top it all off, a rubber ducky floatie hugging his waist.
Seemingly improvised, Dyrud pecks the duck’s mouth on his castmates, shouting “Muah!” each time, as he meanders across the stage.
By the time Petruchio exited stage left — punctuating his exit by pausing, turning to the crowd and sternly straightening his crooked rubber ducky floatie — the audience was in stitches.
A captivating show — and setting
Several other standout performances highlighted the LTSF’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Jessika D. Williams shined as the title character, unspooling impassioned monologues with fierce swagger.
Joe Wegner flexed unparalleled comedic timing as Grumio, who at one point exhaustedly asked the audience, “Who else needs a drink?” before pretending to count out the orders: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven-hundred of you!”
It was just another example of the immersive nature of this captivating production. There’s a stage, sure, but there are no dividing lines between actor and audience at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.
Characters run through aisles, sit on attendees’ laps, munch popcorn during monologues, and even whisk those sitting in the best seat in the house into position to play a part in the show.
Not to mention, it all takes place in a venue backdropped by the shimmering waters of Lake Tahoe and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada.
For Madison Martin, it sure beat going to the movies.
“I think having flesh and blood right in front of you perform is so much heavier than just seeing it on a movie screen,” Martin said. “This is the first year we had tickets for on stage and we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. And now it’s going to be that way every year. I’d recommend it to everyone.”