November 16, 2000

Shrew Talkin' to Me?

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This ain’t your mama’s Shrew. The Center for Theatre Arts (CTA) production of The Taming of the Shrew opens tonight, but it’s more like Pleasantville than traditional Shakespeare.

The play starts with a housewife that doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical mold. She is not happy with the monotony of her ironing and chores. When the June Cleaver carbon copies whisk her away, she instantly tries to resist the submissive wife standards that they try to impose on her. She will later become Katherine (Erin Espelie ’01), the shrew herself. The intro was a nice touch, as the team of housewives are set up as a wonderful contrast to the dueling, non-conformist Kate.

She is then thrown into 1950s suburbia. As opposed to the traditional Shakespeare version of the play, Petruchio, who is played by Resident Professional Teaching Assistant (RPTA) Tim True, is now an arrogant bowler, complete with his name sewn onto his shirt and bowling trophies adorning his estate. This style of modernization continues, as lutes become electric guitars, the outside party becomes the backyard barbecue, the feast becomes take-out Chinese food, Petruchio’s slippers become his bowling shoes, etc.

The story is the classic tale of Katherine and Petruchio. Katherine is the shrew who won’t be wooed, or tamed, by any man. However, her younger sister, Bianca (Melissa Mortazavi ’01) has suitors knocking down the front door. Their father, Baptista (RPTA William Richert) won’t allow Bianca to marry until he finds a husband for Katherine.

So all of Bianca’s admirers plot to get Petruchio to marry Katherine so that they can make their move on Bianca. But Katherine won’t be taken without a fight. Petruchio sees this as a challenge, and he plans to be the victor over the belligerent Katherine.

Also appearing in the cast are Michael Seth Benn ’02, as Lucentio, and Chris Krahe ’02, as Hortensio. Both characters pose as tutors for Bianca so they may profess their love for her. Ari Wishkoff ’01 puts in a notable performance as Tranio, Lucentio’s servant. At first, Tranio comes off as a Paul Pfeiffer look-alike from TV’s The Wonder Years. But as he and his master construct a switching-places ruse to woo Bianca, he delivers some of the freshest dialogue and best asides to the audience.

Will Pomerantz ’84 is at the helm as guest director and choreographer (there are a good deal of dance numbers). Other technical staff include the CTA’s own Warren Cross as sound designer, Daniel Hall as lighting designer, and Kent Goetz as scenic and co-lighting designer.

Last year the CTA adapted Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to the post-WWII era. And this year’s modernization is another success. The themes surrounding the submissive housewife transfer wonderfully from the 1590s to the 1950s. The chauvinism translates very well to this time period, with Petruchio eventually taming his feisty wife. The final scene is either the comic icing on the cake or an offensive anti-women’s lib statement, depending on your point of view.

What adds to the comedy even more are present-day references. With the success of Kiss Me Kate on Broadway last season (the musical about actors putting on Shrew), Taming of the Shrew is currently enjoying a lot of hype. The CTA timed this one well, in the wake of Kiss Me Kate’s five Tony awards this past summer. In fact, those of you with a keen ear for musicals will recognize some recent Broadway references.

For example, Tim True sings his line “Where is the life that I have lead?” as Petruchio does in Kiss Me Kate. The show wraps up with “The Best of Times” song from La Cage Aux Folles (the musical on which The Birdcage is based). And those of you with an especially keen eye may recognize the Chicago-inspired choreography with the dust rags spiraling around Katherine’s head.

Other modern references include a tribute to Ferris Bueller during Petruchio’s prayer (“hey batta batta, swing batta”), a tribute to South Park (he talks through his bowling trophy in an Eric Cartman voice), and a popular culture reference to the game Jenga. A scene where Gremio (RPTA Brian Russell) stabs himself in the leg is also reminiscent of Gene Wilder’s actions in Young Frankenstein.

So keep your eyes peeled, your ears open, and your funny bone tuned. You’ll realize that this is a Shrew for any age.

Archived article by Daniel Fischer