This week, Ashley Cowan offers a few thoughts and facts regarding The Taming of the Shrew to get you ready for March 18’s Opening Night at Cafe Royale.
Now, I’m sure most of you out there are Shakespeare fans. Or at least, that’s what you tell your friends. But just in case he makes you a little nervous, here are a few basic points to help ease you into to The Taming of the Shrew.
First, what the heck is a shrew?
Well, according to the dictionary a “shrew” is a mouselike mammal with beady eyes and a long pointed snout. Its second definition simply explains a shrew as “a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman”. And while I do think Stuart should have considered casting an array of small creatures, in this case, the tamed shrew describes Katherina.
Katherina? What an exotic name! Where does this play take place?
In the Italian city of Padua.
Ah, and when was it written?
There are a few opinions on the year but most seem to believe it was in 1592.
16th-century Italian comedy was a thing, right? Did that impact the play?
Well, reader, great observation. There does seem to be some evidence within The Taming of the Shrew that reflects some of the style of Commedia dell’Arte. For example, the combination of some melodrama moments and slapstick humor executed by a colorful collection of characters.
That sounds fun.
Has The Taming of the Shrew ever been made into a movie?
It has. An impressive fourteen different films have been created; including one with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It also helped to inspire the enchanting musical, Kiss Me Kate, and the ever popular teen classic flick, 10 Things I Hate About You.
So how does this story start?
Once upon a time there were two sisters: Katherina and Bianca (spoiler alert: one of them is a shrew) who lived with their father, Baptista. Bianca was considered a hot piece and managed to attract herself three suitors but Dad refused to take any of them seriously until his other single daughter, who had a reputation for being harsh and unfriendly, found a beau of her own.
Theater Pub has taken a slightly different route and has cast Baptista as a woman. And since mother often knows best, this should be a fun interpretation of controlling parenting presented with a feminine approach and two daughters working what their mama gave them.
Does Katherina find someone?
Does she! After a few questionable OKCupid dates, Petruchio leaves Verona and comes into town in search of fame, fortune, and perhaps some female companionship. And when he meets Kate, he’s not afraid of her or her reputation.
So? People love this stuff. It’s the whole “battle of the sexes” thing. We get to explore the relationship of two strong competitors who both embody elements of their sex and the fire to remain in control.
Would you say it’s a romantic comedy?
I guess you could say that. But the play certainly opens the door to larger social issues regarding the institution of marriage and the exploration of the roles within them.
Does the shrew ever get tamed?
That’s something we can talk about over a beer. Partially because it can be a fun discussion and partially because I’m thirsty.
At the beginning the play, so much of what we, the audience, know about Kate is told to us by the other characters. They all seem to be on a mission to teach us about her incorrigible ways. But as the story progresses, we start to get an idea of what may be influencing her behavior and her response to her sister being favored by her father (or in this production, her mother).
Now, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I’m a bit of a romantic. I’ve been through many heated discussions about this play and listened to the backlash of several spirited thinkers who find the piece to be sexist and degrading. And to them, I say – maybe grab a drink and relax for a moment. I personally believe it’s a story about people learning from each other, exploring their fears, and ultimately transforming by approaching life in a new way. The play can be farcical but it’s also richer and more developed than that too.
Yeah, but what’s up with Kate’s speech at the end?
It depends how you direct it and interpret it but I believe it’s a representation of Kate’s dynamic spirit evolving into a more mature state. She seems to be accepting that she’s in a partnership and perhaps with that, she understands that power can exist together. When one succeeds, the other benefits.
Okay. Why should I see Theater Pub take this play on?
Well, what else are you doing?
Come see it. There’s nothing like watching Shakespeare’s words come to life surrounded by bar patrons and theater lovers alike. This production is sure to entertain and challenge us, make us reconsider the strengths and weaknesses of relationships, and delight us with a cast of talented Bay Area actors.
Plus, I’ll be there. And I’d love to see you.