The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0826 Thursday, 6 May 1999.
From: Jimmy Jung <
Date: Wednesday, 05 May 1999 12:40:59 -0400
Subject: Taming in DC (girls, girls, girls)
A couple of years ago, a Baltimore production of Taming of the Shrew
decided to cross cast the role of Baptista. For me, the resulting
alteration in the relationship between Kate, Bianca, and their (now)
mother and especially the dowry discussion became dark, somewhat
mercenary and particularly intriguing.
If you hadn't heard, the Washington Shakespeare Company has decided to
take this notion even further and has staged an all female production.
That, of itself, should have made for an interesting production, but
combined with a number of other directorial choices confused the whole
effort (or at least confused me). The play is set in a 1940's Parisian
bookshop, where the shop owner and her patrons (all women) decide to
stage Taming of the Shrew to determine if Shakespeare was worthy enough
to remain on the shelves of this strongly feminist bookstore. Cam
Magee, the productions dramaturg, has written a new "Induction" to
support this revision, and it makes a lot more sense to me than the
Chris Sly thing. The choice of Paris in the 40's is designed to
introduce the threat of war, during the production we hear radio reports
of the advancing threats to Paris. There is also an intriguing
evolution of the characters from shop patrons to their shakespearian
characters. Gremio starts as an elegant, tall woman in harem pants, but
slowly receives first a vest, then a suit, gray hair, a cane, an eye
patch and an Irish accent and closes the first act as a bumbling
hilarious old fool. But when the second act opens, the entire cast is
now dressed in tuxedos; for reasons that elude me entirely. As the show
closes and Kate delivers her "hand below your husband's foot" speech,
bombs begin to fall around the Parisian bookshop and the air rid sirens
begin to sound. The lines, "I am ashamed that women are so simple/ To
offer war where they should kneel for peace;" have a peculiar resonance
when bombs are falling, but I'm not sure that it is anything more than
peculiar. In the program's Director's notes we are told that, "against
this backdrop, Kate's final speech becomes a paean for peace, and
Petruchio, too, is tamed." ... Maybe.
Bombs, tuxedos, Paris in the 40's were all elements that distracted me
from the central question of how these women would deal with this
potentially most anti-woman play. Early on, the bookstore patrons, who
have not yet been subsumed into their Shakespearean character's actually
cheer, as the lines are delivered that suggests Shakespeare's pro or
anti feminist position. The patrons playing Petruchio and Kate are
introduced to us as being on different sides of this argument.
Petruchio, played by Kate Norris, sees Shakespeare as the sexist and I
would have hoped that when she takes on the role she would do her best
to support her argument, giving us a dark, cruel, tyrant Petruchio.
(when's the last time you saw one of those?). Instead she falls in love
with Kate at first sight, an entertaining, but more or less traditional
Nevertheless, Kate Norris is a manic funny Petruchio in the midst of a
loud rambling production. She leads a genuinely funny cast; the clowns
clown, the old folks dodder, young lovers flirt. The exception is
Elizabeth Pierotti as Kate. In the midst of this madness, her
performance remains tragic and sad; a solemn center in the middle of the
comedy that reminds us of what's at stake.