Shrewpost 1: first read


It seemed like a good idea at the time. Play one of Shakespeare’s greatest FEMALE roles for a director I love at a theatre I admire. Sure, the money’s not great, but this is one of those chances, right? When’s the next time I’m going to get to play across gender . . . as Katherine the Shrew? Just the chance to play the infamous “wooing” scene (2.1), even from a perspective I never thought I’d get, was enticing. Go for it, I thought, you’re not getting any younger. So I said yes to the Lantern Theatre’s offer to have me play Kate in their April production of The Taming of the Shrew.

Now, after having read the play through slowly and carefully – a real read, you know, not the reading you give a play the night before the audition so you can say, yes you’ve read the play when the director asks you and not be a total LIAR – now, today, after that slow read, I am feeling sick. I had all of these wispy fantasies about being able to turn her into a sympathetic character. Then she drags her little sister on stage in the middle of act one, Bianca’s hands bound together, interrogates her about which of her suitors she likes best, then beats her when she doesn’t get the answer she likes.

I had sweet notions about finding something redeemable in Petruchio, about being able to find some semblance of real love between them, a crack in his brutality through which I could see a pathway to at least an amusing if a bit physical relationship between them. Then in act 4 he starves her, torments her with food she can’t eat and practices sleep deprivation on her: treatment we decry in the dungeons of Guantanimo. In fact, P seems to be the kind of guy Delta Force would be interested in for “Psy Ops” missions.

But something magical happens in 5.1 At the end of that scene, K turns to P and calls him “husband” for the first time in the play. Then, in the first moment of tenderness between them, they talk of kissing, and seem to enjoy the thought of going to see how things turn out for the other couples in the play. I cannot think this is the result of P’s torment; I think she see something in 5.1 which changes her. In the scene, she and P stand off to the side and are largely observers. Maybe she sees something that makes her see P in a new way. Or somehow, everything that has come before 5.1 suddenly makes sense to her, or she lets it go, she drops the rock. We’ll need to wait and see what that is. I await the great rehearsal discovery. Remember, I remind myself, you have to rehearse the play with other actors.

But it better be good, because 5.2 is perhaps the most astonishing turnaround for a character in all of Shakespeare, and K’s final speech on the duties of wives is the reason most people run screaming from this play. At the end of the speech, she places her hand under P’s foot to be stepped on. It’s nice that he doesn’t but I mean, come on. My one early window in is that perhaps K and P are having it over on the assembled crowd, knowing what K’s rep is, and delighting in in an intentionally over-the-top transformation. I’m looking for any reason I can find that she doesn’t really mean everything she says in that speech.

Well . . . time for another read, I think.