Bard in the park

The Mahoning Valley Players gravitate toward William Shakespeare’s comedies instead of his tragedies, which makes “The Taming of the Shrew” a logical choice.

There’s only one problem.

Kim Akins, who cofounded the company with Liz Conrad and Cleric Costes, said, “It doesn’t get done a lot because of the sexism (in the script). We ran it past some male directors and they were all uncomfortable with it.”

But director Amy Anne Kibler thought the comedy could work with contemporary audiences.

“She and I kind of agreed there was a way to make it much less sexist, and it is a really funny show,” Akins said. “What appears to be sexism is because of a really dysfunctional family relationship.”

In the Shakespeare comedy, a father refuses to let his younger daughter, Bianca, marry until her prickly, abrasive older sister, Kate, finds a mate. With the promise of a big pay day, a fortune-seeker named Petruchio accepts the challenge of wooing Kate at the request of the man in love with Bianca.

While past MVP productions have staged the Bard’s stories in more contemporary settings, “Shrew” is more traditional visually.

“We’ve costumed in period, but we’ve done it a little bit stylized,” Akins said.

The cast includes Dom Augustine, Craig Conrad, Liz Conrad, Kage Coven, Bill Finley, Claudia Gage, Gerri Jenkins, Elise Kibler, Eric Kibler, Jeremiah Kibler, Tommy O’Donnell, Terry Shears, Vijay Welch-Young, Tricia Terlesky, Dave Wolford, Donny Wolford and Monica Beasley-Martin.

Akins, Conrad and Costes started MVP after the three of them appeared in “Macbeth” at Youngs-town Playhouse (although Akins, like most superstitious theater folks, referred to it simply as “the Scottish play”).

“It was such a terrific experience, we decided the community could use more Shakespeare,” Akins said. “We just really loved it and had that Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney, ‘let’s put on a show’ attitude. We had no money, no sets, no costumes, just a desire to expose the community to Shakespeare.”

Past productions have drawn about 200 to 300 people per performance, and Akins said she believes the company has built a core audience upon which to grow in the future.

“Our slogan for the company is, ‘Not your grandma’s Shakespeare.’ We want people to come out and not be afraid of Shakespeare. You can watch it and understand it and not be intimidated like you were in high school.”