Free and Open to the Public—Shakespeare on the Green Aug. 17 – 19
Shakespeare’s comedy about a strong woman named Kate, and the man who “tames” her, can be hard for modern audiences to swallow because of its sexist theme. “How do you take a 400-plus-year-old play with outdated gender dynamics and present it so that it stimulates great conversation and great laughs?” says Wendy Franz, managing director for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF), presenting Shakespeare on the Green for the fifth year.
The Taming of the Shrew, written between 1590 and 1592, depicts the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina (Kate), the headstrong, obdurate shrew. Initially, Kate is an unwilling participant in the relationship. Petruchio “tames” her with various psychological torments, such as keeping her from eating and drinking, until she becomes a desirable, compliant and obedient bride. The misogynistic overtones have become the subject of considerable controversy among modern scholars, audiences and readers.
The CSF production tackles the challenge by setting the play in post-World War II New York’s Little Italy. “The end of World War II was a pivotal time for women’s roles in our culture,” Franz said. “For the first time, women had served in combat because men were in short supply. It’s the perfect lens for us. The Kate in our telling is a fighter pilot coming home from the war. When the war was over, women were expected to go back to their historical gender roles. When Kate comes back home to Little Italy, she’s accustomed to some independence. She’s in a place of rejecting old values. So her rebellious behavior makes sense; she’s not just being rowdy.”
Franz said families will love the production for its showy costumes, music and comedy. “It’s fun and bright, with lots of physical humor and swashbuckling. The colorful costumes evoke the 1940s, as does the swing music. The large cast of 20 makes the swing dance numbers exciting. The play begins with a big celebration because the war is over—everyone comes in cheering.”
She said the essential parts of the set will be brought to Stapleton, including the characteristic New York brownstones. “We’re also bringing the Little Italy sign that is lit with marquee lights,” Franz said.
Some dialogue and interpretation was changed to fit the different take on the story. “Kate and Petruchio focus on discovering themselves and each other, ultimately becoming equal partners,” said Franz. “When Petruchio makes the choice to starve Kate, he decides not to eat either. In Kate’s speech at the end, she refers to him not as her lord, but as her spouse, because she chooses him as her partner. What’s critical about our approach is the characters are older, they’re experienced, and they’re looking at what it means to find a partner, how to navigate that.
“It works beautifully as a lovely union instead of a forced submission.”
See The Taming of the Shrew Thursday–Saturday, August 17–19 at 7pm.
For more information, see cupresents.org/series/shakespeare-festival/.