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Diablo Review: Livermore Shakespeare Festival

Experience "The Taming of the Shrew" and "The Liar" among the picturesque vines of Concannon Vineyard.

The Taming of the Shrew / photo by Gregg Le Blanc

As the sun sets in Livermore Valley wine country, it is easy to imagine Shakespeare sitting in the front row, sipping on a glass of Chardonnay as he enjoys a performance adapted from his work.

With a stage and seating tucked between rows of lush green grapevines at Concannon Vineyard, the Livermore Shakespeare Festival is a delightful summer tradition for theater fans and novices alike. Just head out to the vineyard, grab a glass of wine, and relax and enjoy a classic performance in front of the timeless Queen Anne–style 1883 Concannon family home.

Diablo visited both of this year’s productions: Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and Pierre Corneille's The Liar. Here’s a preview!

The Liar

Using the 2010 adaptation by David Ives, this production of The Liar has fittingly modernized the spoken pentameter to make the jokes and words applicable to our 21st Century lifestyle, provoking countless laughs from the entire audience, young and old. Director Lisa A. Tromovitch has done a splendid job in bringing the Parisian lifestyle of 1644 to the East Bay of 2013.

Rafael Jordan in "The Liar" / photo by Kenneth AlexanderThe Liar takes place in 17th Century Paris, where we find a lively young man named Dorante, played by American Conservatory Theatre MFA candidate Rafael Jordan. Dorante, who cannot tell the truth, is joined by a humorous servant and sidekick named Cliton, who, quite opposite of Dorante, cannot tell a lie. Played by Paul Clifton Barrois, Cliton stands out as the hipster-esque nerd of the 17th Century, tagging along with Dorante as he pompously shares grand stories from meeting the queen to scandalous tales involving women, parties, and yachts. Intrigued by his elaborate tales, two classy and eligible young women are introduced to the story, helping to complete the classic with elements such as mistaken identity, fabrication, and of course, romance.

However, as more characters—and lies—are thrown into the equation, Dorante finds himself digging a deeper hole and falling in love. Will he ever tell the truth? Wearing outfits that look like they were shipped straight from the Palace of Versailles, the actors and actresses do an exquisite job at keeping the whole audience entertained through the two and a half hours of humor, drama, confusion, and surprise.

The Taming of the Shrew

While this Shakespearean work is typically based in 16th Century Padua, director Gary Armagnac has put a more spin on the story and brought viewers to the city of Livermore in the late 1940s, immediately following World War II. The Taming of the Shrew's leading lady, Katarina, is a spunky and strong-willed young woman played by Jennifer LeBlanc. While Bianca, her bubbly and beautiful younger sister, has many suitors lined up behind her, Bianca cannot marry until Katarina finds a mate. With a will for independence and an intimidating personality, Katarina has few prospects. However, Petruchio, played by Armando McClain, is determined to marry this woman and tame “the shrew.”

Sean Higgins and Luisa Frasconi in "The Taming of the Shrew" / photo by Kenneth AlexanderDressed in historically accurate and fashionably appealing costumes, the strong and skilled cast is sure to keep you at the edge of your seat, as you watch the tension between Katarina and all those who get in her way. While Shakespeare’s story may be fictional, a lingering Rosie the Riveter theme ties close to home. In 1940, a Hungarian ballerina named Katherine Vajda fled to America with her husband, eventually becoming California’s first female winemaker and creating wines at Concannon for 10 years. While Shrew’s main character may not be a vintner, her desire to be a strong and working woman is brought to life, making the role Concannon’s Katherine achieved much more vivid, as you watch the performance on her old stomping grounds.

The Liar: July 5, 6, 14, 20. The Taming of the Shrew: July 7, 12, 13, 19, 21. Regular prices range from $46 to $25. Concannon Vineyard, 4590 Tesla Rd., Livermore, (925) 443-2273, livermoreshakes.org.