The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.199 Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Date: April 21, 2014 at 11:47:48 PM EDT
Subject: Review of R&J and Taming Shrew at Bryn Mawr
The Bryn Mawr College Shakespeare Performance Troupe presents two plays each fall and two more each spring. The players are Bryn Mawr students, as are the overwhelming majority of the audience—in fact, they are good friends of the players. The SPT chooses the plays, auditions and selects the actors, and sets direction; the school is not involved.
This spring, the SPT presented Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew. They were both fairly well done. The directors chose to explore sexual issues and make the plays more modern and relevant The Taming of the Shrew was far more successful.
The Romeo and Juliet director tried to make the play a parable of a modernity with strong military overtones. Or so the playbill said. Montague wore mismatched pieces of an American army officer’s uniform, and that was the extent of military symbolism. The director removed most of the best poetry from the play. The best performance was by the actress who played Friar Lawrence. The nurse’s role was badly cut, no military significance there, and she mugged and emoted to make up for it.
The Taming of the Shrew was a different story. It is amazing that so strongly feminist school as Bryn Mawr would bother to try to refocus the play in terms of modern women’s issues, but that is exactly what Bryn Mawr did. And did so very well. The problem presented was not that Petruchio was an unthinking oppressor, it was that Kate was a strong woman, with quality and value of her own, being forced to conform to the world around her, not just to Petruchio and the other males in her life. The word, “genderfluid,” was used to describe a woman NOT a shrew, but who has qualities associated with being a strong male. Somehow they pulled this off and kept a great deal of the play’s humor besides.
The Taming of the Shrew had outstanding direction. Both Kate and Bianca were excellent—and VERY funny. Even the less important characters had their moments, there was almost no hamming, and I hope that this director does several more plays while at Bryn Mawr. The audience loved the performance, every joke, and every pratfall.
The plays were performed in the great hall of Rhoads Dormitory. The room is narrow and high with the worst acoustics imaginable. There is a sweet spot in the center, about two thirds of the way back, where the sound is crystal clear. The students knew that and concentrated in that area, leaving the “good” seats up front to the visitors. There was no scenery to speak of and the play was performed in front of a twenty-foot high window, facing west, so the audience was treated to a blinding display of the setting sun for the first twenty minutes or so. The hall is just above a pond and a flock of ducks and geese made an amazing racket until well after sundown. Finally, in the second act, a fire alarm went off nearby and many fire trucks quickly responded, contributing to the hubbub—and the play. Somehow it added to the spirit, everybody loved the entire show, which was serious, funny and very well done. If the Marx Brothers ever did Shakespeare with Betty Friedan, you would have gotten something like this.