The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare's early gender political quagmire, is currently being revived at the Duke on 42nd Street until April 21. It comes at a time when “the War on Women” has become a hot-button issue, pitting the president against Cardinal Dolan, Rush Limbaugh against Sandra Fluke, Hilary Rosen against Ann Romney—and Sarah Palin against Bill Maher in a continuing battle. Why the production has any resonance in the heated election controversies is not because it uses the American west of the 1800s as a metaphor for today, although a line to Petruchio like, “Will you woo this wildcat?” works well for the conception. Instead, along with Michael Friedman’s own and period music hall songs—Shakespeare was popular around the country at this time in the nation's history, too–the director, Arin Arbus, solves a major artistic problem regarding the work by casting her leads against type–offering us all HOPE. Here the performers are attuned to slapstick timing—they’re actually closer to the mechanicals in A Midsummer’s Night Dream or the prospectors in Chaplin’s The Gold Rush than they are to matinee idols we’ve seen in these parts in the past, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton or Meryl Streep and Raul Julia. It also offers an alternative conception to the idea that Shakespeare was at war with women himself. Softening the rougher, polarizing edges, however, does ask Maggie Siff to present a more subdued Katharina. Instead of her humiliations by the opposite sex, the focus belongs to the strategies men employ toward marital union (you’ll be surprised that guys ever took so much interest in wedding planning!). Petruchio (played by the terrific comic actor Andy Grotelueschen, last seen in Cymbeline for Fiasco Theater) sets out to marry for money and, as he recognizes the responsibility of love, discovers that geld becomes less paramount (Shakespeare should probably have written him less confident at the start, though). Kate, something of a sadist herself, can work for the common good by the time she delivers her famous cringe-inducing final monologue (“I am sham’d that women are so simple To offer war where they should kneel for peace”).
Katharine Hepburn could never settle the acting challenge of stepping off of her “pedestal” in similar work, like The Philadelphia Story (audiences prefer the individualism to the socially acceptable, just as Garbo didn’t much like the boring, human prince at the end of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast). Siff and Grotelueschen, however, provide characters who can come to their senses (maybe the full title of the show should be The Taming of the Shrew by the Tamer Who Is Shrewd). Even if it's projection, the Bard seemed to know Cupid’s lumps—as if he really wanted to investigate how relationships could work for the common good. Whether that can ever be reflected through politics, despite all the Girl Power or Moms Drive the Economy bumper stickers, remains an unanswered question—but if the taint can be taken off a very broad play like The Taming of the Shrew, after more than 400 years, maybe there’s hope for America, also. Among a strong cast, watch for an extremely amusing young actor, with the looks of Marty Feldman crossed with Samuel Beckett, named John Keating.
© 2012 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Photo: Maggie Siff and Andy Grotelueschen (credit: Henry Grossman)
Press: The Bruce Cohen Group, Ltd
The Duke on 42nd Street
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Theatre for a New Audience Presents
The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Arin Arbus
Featuring Maggie Siff and Andy Grotelueschen
The Duke on 42nd Street
NEW YORK – The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, directed by Arin Arbus, is Theatre for a New Audience's fifth and final production of the 2011 – 2012 theatre season. Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy and Mad Men) and Andy Grotelueschen (Cymbeline performed by Fiasco Theater) play Kate and Petruchio. It runs through April 21, at The Duke on 42nd Street, a NEW 42ND STREET® project, 229 West 42nd Street.
Scenery is by Donyale Werle; lighting by Marcus Doshi; costumes by Anita Yavich; original music by Michael Friedman and choreography by Doug Elkins. The voice director is Andrew Wade and B.H. Barry is the movement consultant.
Jeffrey Horowitz, Artistic Director, Theatre for a New Audience, notes “Arin’s production imagines a traveling theatrical troupe bringing its production of The Taming of the Shrew, which is set in Italy, to a town in the American frontier, late 19th Century. It is a time with certain parallels to Shakespeare’s play, and in fact Shakespeare was enormously popular in the American frontier. He was played in large and small theatres, hotels, mining camps and riverboats. Moreover, there was a fascination then with strong individuals; there were limited options for women, rigid social hierarchies, and pronounced materialism and sexism.”
According to Ms. Arbus (Othello and Macbeth with John Douglas Thompson), “As The Taming of the Shrew is a play within a play, role playing and disguise are essential components. Almost everyone is scheming, lying, and hiding beneath disguises. Kate and Petruchio are the only ones who see things as they are and refuse to accept them. Their relationship is not misogynistic. It’s an intimate, brutal, hilarious negotiation between two strong-minded individuals, a husband and wife, about the terms of their contract. What’s remarkable is not that they fight, but that through warring, they find love and mutual admiration and in doing so, create a new paradigm within their world. As Harold Bloom writes, 'Kate and Petruchio…are clearly going to be the happiest married couple in Shakespeare.’”
Michael Friedman, the composer who is creating a score which combines original and existing music, says, “I have an amazing collection of 19th Century traditional bawdy songs and there's a great trove of popular American songs I’ve discovered. There are also some wonderful western tunes. But, of course, the play within the play is set in Italy, so there is Bellini and Donizetti, early Verdi and Cherubini, all of whom were tremendously popular as opera, like Shakespeare, took America by storm.”
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