Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

American Players Theatre, "The Taming of the Shrew"

On July 2nd, we went to American Players Theatre, and enjoyed the most remarkable production of "The Taming of the Shrew" that we have ever seen.

This version was done without the "Christoper Sly" framing story, which was appropriate and not missed due to the naturalistic presentation. The company chose to forgo putting the play on as the knockabout comedy it frequently is done as, and instead make it what Georgie deemed a domestic drama, altough still with much humor.

The keys to the new interpretation are the principals' performeances, Tracy Michelle Arnold as Katherina,"the shrew", and James Ridge as Petruchio, who has "come to tame her."

Arnold plays Katharina as a vulnerable woman, deeply hurt by her father's spiritual abandonment, and angry at her powerlessness which gives her "acting out" as a sole outlet for her frustration. The scene of the first meeting between "Kate" and Petruchio was different than any I have seen. Instead of being presented as a hard shelled person who volleys wisecracks, we see that she is confused by Petruchio's protestations, both wanting and not wanting to believe in him. Ridge takes Petruchio at a slower, gentler, tempo also, insistent but not at first demanding.

This balancing of the two characters continues throughout the play. When the newly married couple arrives at Petruchio's house, we see very real misery on Kate's part, but also, in Petruchio's Act IV solilloquy "Thus have I politicly begun my reign," we see that he is tired as well but determined to continue his program. In the scene traveling back to Padua it is partly understanding Petruchio's weariness with her contrariness that causes Kate to make peace.

The one part about this interpretation that troubled me a bit was that Kate's last act speech,"Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow," was done with perfect sincerity, with nothing ironic or suggestive of collusion with Petruchio, although somewhat lightened by, when delivering the line, "put your hands beneath your husband's foot," making the hands-joined gesture of "giving a leg up." However, Georgie and her avowedly feminist friend who joined us for the show both found Kate's speech quite good and not too submissive, so perhaps I was reading too much (or too little) into it.

The interpretations by the supporting cast were more tradional and added a lot of the humor to the play.

Production values were up to APT's usual standards, with a clever modular set including a tromp l'oeil door that I would have sworn I saw used. Costuming set the play somewhere in the middle 1800's, with lots of yummy top hats, frock coats and fancy vests on the Paduan men. Petruchio and his men were soldiers with double-breasted shirts, and hats that made them look like early American Indian Wars veterans. The women's dresses were hoop-skirt period, with the striking exception of Kate's distinctly Edwardian last-act gown (which may have been intended to show how she had progressed?). The performance was interrupted in the first half when the audienced noticed a plume of smoke rising from a lamp housing above the stage. It was evident that something inside was on fire. The show was stopped while the chief electician climbed the light tower, extinguished the flames, and disconnected and removed the lamp. It was rumored that a partially constructed bird's nest was the fuel. There was a bit of grumbling from some audience members, but the play picked up without a hitch.

This was absolutely the best and most thought-provoking presentation of this play in my experience, and highly recommended for anyone interested. "The Taming of Shrew" continues in repetory through October 2nd, with tickets available for most performances.

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Tags: american players, shakepeare
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