Friday, April 21, 2017


The theater department's first performance of The Taming of the Shrew was last night, and I got to join the cast for a talkback. It was a bit disorienting being on stage, especially in a theater where I've been dozens of times as an audience member (those lights are really bright! Blinding! And people are looking at me!), but I enjoyed it. The actor playing Petruchio seemed to have come, independently, to a very similar take on the play to mine, so that was nice. And I got to say some things about feminine-obedience-as-performance and playtexts-as-literature that were, I hope, at least vaguely coherent.

I like the way this production shaped up. It seemed more energetic, and more broadly comedic, than the early rehearsal I'd seen. I suppose that is one of the things the process does: makes everything a lot bigger. Or maybe it's audiences that make plays bigger, like mirrors reflecting a space back at itself.

Shrew reminds me of The Importance of Being Earnest, in a weird way. It's all about using language to break social rules and shape alternate realities (this is one of the things the Petruchio-actor and I agreed about, that Petruchio is first and foremost inducting Katharina into a game where words mean whatever the heck you want them to mean), and sometimes those realities grow out of control and take on lives of their own. I really wish it had been possible to fit the Christopher Sly framework into this production, but I had to cut it down to 90 minutes.

I am, as always, in awe of actors. They do something magical.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

90 minutes! Wow! I'm glad that you had a good experience with it. I hadn't thought about the play being about words meaning whatever you want them to mean. I have never taught Shrew, because I've worried that I wouldn't be able to deal with the misogyny. But I did teach The Tamer Tamed in my Ren class this year, and sort of wished I'd taught Shrew in Shakespeare. Maybe I'll give it a try next time.

Fretful Porpentine said...

I would never teach Shrew as the only Shakespeare play or even the only Shakespeare comedy in a course, but it does teach very well. It's particularly good, I think, for getting across how much impact performance choices can have -- I usually like to show a couple of different versions of Petruchio and Katharina's first meeting, and at least three of Katharina's final soliloquy. Plus, metatheatricality -- not just the obvious stuff with the Christopher Sly scenes, but the road-to-Padua bit. (Students are always like "OH!" when I point out that the specific ways that Petruchio denies reality -- saying it's moonlight when it's broad daylight, and declaring men to be women whenever he says they are -- are exactly the same ways that early modern theater ALWAYS denies reality, and like Katharina, audiences are trained to just go with it.)