Entertaining 'Shrew' needs update



The Monroe County Civic Theater's production of "The Taming of the Shrew" this weekend was an interesting melange of an early modern script with contemporary sets and costumes. Any modern-day production that clings to the original script of "The Taming of the Shrew," now informally classified as a "problem play," and frequently referred to as Shakespeare's comic paean to chauvinism, is going to be tricky.

The play, which enjoys more popularity in production in contrast to its academic notoriety, was well-attended. The audience spread itself comfortably across the Third Street Park on patio chairs and blankets, but it was almost impossible to comprehend the actors' lines at the fringes of the park. Third Street Park could do with a sound-system upgrade.

The actors' line delivery was flawless. Amanda Baker, in a black costume and golf cap, did an excellent job as Katharina. Allison Minniear, who wore a pink frock throughout the play, added a noteworthy dimension of immaturity to the play and to the role of Bianca.

The MCCT made bold moves in terms of costume and set design, which significantly altered the reception of the play by adding contemporary connotations to the protagonists' roles. Frank Buczolich, who played the part of Signior Baptista wearing a jacket and a tie, inadvertently highlighted the element of business involved in Kate's marriage transaction.

David Wald, dressed like the Marlboro man, portrayed a chilling modern-day version of Petruchio in his striking bright yellow hat, unbuttoned shirt, with an old rusty sword, a huge pink bow tie and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. His attire added a dimension of an individualistic capitalist profiting from Kate's disadvantaged position in the marriage market of Padua.

The infamous final scene in which Katharina declares her utter submission to Petruchio, enabling him to win the wager, often causes problems for modern-day directors because it is so misogynistic. Katharina's final monologue on the place of women in society and her offer to place her hand below her husband's foot has evoked outrage even from Shakespeare's immediate successors. Twenty years after "The Taming of the Shrew" premiered, John Fletcher wrote "The Tamer Tamed" in an effort to counter the impact of its misogyny.

Contemporary productions of the play have often followed the shows with a production of "The Tamer Tamed" or tried to make an attempt to subvert the misogyny in Shakespeare's script. The BBC Film version portrays Petruchio as conscious of his lunacy -- which the audience is supposed to think is temporary. Other directors have attempted to address the problematic closure by either changing the spirit of the whole play in switching the gender of actors, making Kate a puppet or diminishing the effect of Kate's speech. Some directors have tried making Kate in on the joke, and others have presented Petruchio and his shrew-taming methods as the dream of a drunken misogynist.

Since an alteration in costume inevitably produces a dissonance and violation of the original script, I am left to wonder why the MCCT production did not experiment with the final scene to mitigate the overtly misogynistic message. The production had its genuinely comic moments and updated the final scene to appease modern sensibilities that might have convinced the audience of the play's intent merely to amuse.

Besides the few questionable choices, the MCCT production was very entertaining. MCCT could even begin charging a nominal entry fee from its audience who are provided with the rare opportunity to experience a Shakespearean production in which the actors recite poetry with an earnestness and enthusiasm missing in professional theater.

I highly recommend this production to anyone who wishes to get acquainted with "The Taming of the Shrew" or who wants an evening of stimulating entertainment.

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