Directed by Kathleen Marshall
Featuring Arnie Burton, Andrea Cirie, Carson Elrod, Mel Johnson Jr., Patrick Kerr, John Pankow, Tony Roach, Kate Rockwell, Reg Rogers, Tom Alan Robbins, Susannah Rogers, Danny Scheie and Liz Wisan.
The story hasn’t changed, but context—and a few carefully placed middle fingers—are everything. A wealthy merchant in Padua has two daughters, and while suitors are lining up for the hand of pretty young thing Bianca, no one can put a ring on it until her hell-raising elder sister Kate has been wed—and no one dares that until Petruchio rides into town and meets his match. Amy Freed, who had her way with the Bard with her earlier work The Beard of Avon, has found a way for us to enjoy one of Shakespeare’s most politically problematic plays, and in the playwright’s own words, “still respect ourselves in the morning,” (LA Times).
"My best shot I'll take and make a play of this.
Real Love I'll find in it — for that it needs,
But with enough of Bad Behavior left
That all shall find it true."
A Note on The Taming of the Shrew
A common view about The Taming of the Shrew is that modern feminism opened our eyes to the sickening violence and sexism in a rip-roaring comedy that once gave hearty pleasure to all. In the bad old days, Shakespeare's original audiences would have enjoyed seeing an unruly woman brought under the heel of her lord and master, because they fully believed that women were the weaker sex whose duty was to obey their husbands. Since women lived slave-like existences with no rights or power in a world ruled by men, their opinions about a play or about wife abuse didn't matter. Even if they did, women would have sided with Petruchio, because "the patriarchy" made them passive and compliant.
You've probably caught on: the common view is totally wrong. The Taming of the Shrew was never ideologically safe and never a comedy everyone could enjoy. The play managed to amuse, irritate, and divide audiences along gender lines since it opened in 1594. Like Mamet's Oleanna the play is tailor-made to split its audiences into factions, fomenting not just laughter, but angry dissension and debate. Shakespeare wrote for a theater that depended on a steady influx of women among its paying customers. His actors were all men and boys, but not his audience or his professional world. Some women bankrolled theaters, others worked as artisans, seamstresses, and suppliers, and others gathered money at the door. Many women went to plays and judged them, audibly and forcefully. His most important spectator was the Queen of England. The opinions of women mattered in this world. That's why The Taming of the Shrew has always been outrageous. The comedy is often compared to a sporting match, but one intent on offending the women watching, who were not used to seeing a popular shrew become a mouthpiece for wifely submission. A real shrew always fought to the bitter end and never gave up. Some women may have booed Petruchio, others may have booed Kate. Some may have sided with the dark horse Bianca, who is not tamed at all. Certainly, female flaws are not the only ones on display. The play is a virtual catalogue of offenses that men were criticized for in the period, including the violence of drunken rogues, the greed of fortune hunters, the callousness of fathers who auction off daughters, and the tyranny of husbands who torment their wives verbally and physically. A few women might revel in the taming of a scold and applaud Petruchio and his "taming school." But given what we know about the lives of women in the period, there is strong evidence that many would have pushed back in the manner of Bianca and the Widow refusing to be "schooled" by Kate: "We will have no telling!"
Taming proved so popular and controversial that it generated the only sequel to a Shakespeare play in his time. In The Tamer Tamed by John Fletcher, Petruchio marries again after Kate dies from the rigors of being his wife. His new bride Maria hears he plans to beat her. So she pulls a Lysistrata, refusing to have sex with her husband and inspiring other wives to do the same. He rages at his locked door as his wife mocks at him from above, among her gossips. Finally, they reach a compromise in which Petruchio agrees to his wife's demands, in radical distinction to the ending of Taming. The joy at seeing Petruchio tamed was probably greatest among women spectators: it certainly was when I saw it performed back-to-back with The Taming of the Shrew. Afterward I reread Taming to mull over the meaning of its fascinating metadramatic frame, which is often dropped in production (as in Shrew!). An Italianate Lord plays an elaborate trick on a drunken tinker, making him think he is a rich lord too. The Lord orders up a comedy: The Taming of the Shrew. This Italian-style farce with a dose of moralizing is entertaining but divisive, and the proof is that no one (including feminists) has the same opinion about this play. I think the play had a double aim: to amuse fools who would enjoy seeing a clever man break down a troublesome woman and put her in her place, and to anger women who were fed up with lectures from abusive men about their duty. Shakespeare succeeded in his aims, which were not lofty, but that was (and is) show business. One thing is certain: without its strong appeal, there would be no Shrew!
Pamela Allen Brown
University of Connecticut
FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew occupies a peculiar place in the English speaking theater. It’s a terrible play, but with an appealing premise. As a result, it keeps getting performed and audiences keep rooting for it, hoping it will be better this time . . . and booing Kate on her final speech. Directors and producers keep trying to figure out ways to re-arrange the deck chairs on Ye Olde Titanic by flipping genders, casting it in a speakeasy, or in a harem, etc., as if, by changing the externals, the play's unsavory essence can somehow be transformed. It can’t.
So, I decided to see if I could reconceive the play altogether. My intention was to write my own version of The Taming of the Shrew as if it were 1590 and I had been brought in to fix everything that didn't work in the Shakespeare original.
It so happened that I approached this project just as America was experiencing an unparalleled inflection point with regard to sex, power and gender. I, too, struggle with my anger and don't know how we will repair ourselves. My desire for this play was to see this moment of stress, revelation and contention all the way through to the other side. When you strip away the original play's sexism and its hoary phobic comedy about women and their wildness, the appeal of The Taming of the Shrew has always been its suggestion that there is a place outside of society, a place internal to the spirit, where the binary and violent projections of the world give way; and that love can make people into their best and most realized selves.
But the end of Shakespeare's play depicted, instead, the restoration of some imposed harmony through the breaking of a strong and vibrant spirit. It was important to me, in this Shrew!, not to repeat Shakespeare's central error through a coarse role reversal, or an implied brutal parity. It was important, rather, to fulfill the story's true promise and point the way to something better.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Amy Freed is the author of The Monster Builder, Shrew!, Restoration Comedy, The Beard of Avon, Freedomland, Safe in Hell, The Psychic Life of Savages, You, Nero and other plays. She ‘s a past recipient of the Charles McArthur Playwriting Award (D.C.) The New York Art’s Club Joseph Kesserling Award, a several-times winner of the LA Critic’s Circle Award, and a Pulitzer Prize Finalist. Her work has been produced at South Coast Repertory Theater, New York Theater Workshop, Seattle Repertory, American Conservatory Theater, Yale Rep, California Shakespeare Theater, Berkeley Rep, the Goodman, Playwright’s Horizons, Woolly Mammoth, Arena Stage, and other theaters around the country. She is currently Artist-in-Residence at Stanford University.