Shrewpost 4: first rehearsal

 

The all-male cast settled around folding tables and read through the play, with two women at the helm: Dael, our stage manager and Ceal our director. I will leave the import of their distinctive and similar Celtic names for someone else to figure out.

We read through it rapidly, something that happens in a cast of relative strangers, as if to leave the fewest possible options for one of our peers to pass a negative judgment on us. It’s a trend I regret, and I found myself purposely putting the breaks on and trying to make eye contact, especially with Tom, my big bearish Petruchio. He reminds me of Jeff Daniels, only Tom’s a bit more dangerous.

Ceal is choosing to make the all-maleness an overt gesture – no one will be trying to impersonate a woman with some kind of be-wigged gender transformation. She’s cut out a bit of the play’s prologue and we will be introduced as a contemporary all-male company of players. We are contriving that the “actor” I play isn’t thrilled to have to play Kate, even though he knows the role. He wanted to play Petruchio. Whether we’ll be able to get that across in the five minutes of prologue we have remains to be seen.

Kate enters in a cage on wheels, pushed on stage by Baptista. I will be dressed in a hoop skirt stripped of fabric, so that the bike shorts I was wearing as “actor” are clearly visible. I will have some kind of corset on, and maybe a bonnet. The other big concept is that Bianca will be, initially, a doll/puppet operated by an actor who later morphs in to an actual, cross-gender Bianca by the end of the play.

During a break I snuggled with Tom, who I know, but not well, from his acting work in the community. He and Ceal were in a production of Tracy Letts’ The Man From Nebraska recently. “Let’s get used to this, sweetheart!” I said, my face buried in the chest of sweater, which is about where I meet him when we both are standing (a comment on my stature as much as his). One of his lines leapt out at me at the read through. In 3.1 he says something like “To me she’s married, and not to my clothes.” And throughout I heard for the first time P’s emphasis on being attached to what’s beneath, and his distain for fashion, customs and manners.

Through the first few day of rehearsal – conducted in the Lantern’s dungeon, barely warmed by two massive free-standing kerosene heaters – I noticed the peculiar aspect of the all male cast. Firstly, I miss the girls! There is something absent from our proceedings, a lightness and sparkle that comes from actresses at the outset. We each began doing variations of our alpha male routines, cordial but distant, some of us (like me) sticking to the periphery, testing the waters before diving in. I think too, there is a collective sense of challenge, the knowledge that we’re up against a tough one using a broad conceit (all guys) with three weeks and tech to get it together.

Straight off we confronted the doll. In one of those weird life-patterns (as a Quaker I name it God talking), for the second time in six months I find myself playing a woman in a classical play tormenting a doll onstage. This was Louise’s great gag in The Imaginary Invalid last fall. Again, someone else will have to tell me what it means. Yesterday, we experimented with me attacking the doll in a variety of ways, with Keith as a kind of on-stage puppeteer playing Bianca’s voice. Sometimes I held the doll, sometimes he did. There is something undeniably creepy and brilliant about making Bianca a doll, but it’s really hard to act with. Especially if you’re trying to unearth the anguish of human relationship while doing so.

Tom and I also had a first go at the wooing scene, stumbling off book, calling for lines, and had our first big smooch at the end of it, which surprised me by how easy it felt. Not that I was feeling “Eww, I have to kiss a guy”, but in the back of my mind, there’s the thought. I’m actually more concerned about the response we’ll get from student matinees when Tom’s and my lips meet. Ceal wants us to “wrestle” during the end of the wooing scene, coming out of K’s desire to leave and P’s preventing her. So Tom and I marked through some silly, awkward grips and pushes today while we barked our way through the scene. I naturally released into him as me, in other words, without worrying much about “being a woman” or “how Kate would do this”. It felt freeing, and I realized that it does for Kate too. Finally, a man who can take her!

“OK, I’ll just say it:” Ceal said abruptly, “I think Kate wants to be tamed.” I think I think so too, but at what price? Ceal gave me some scholarship to read about Shrew. I have such a low tolerance for scholarly writing that most of it I couldn’t bear. But there was one article which was a series of interviews with actresses who have played Kate, including Fiona Shaw and Sinead Cusak. These two actresses drew my attention to Kate’s silence. There are many scenes she’s in where she doesn’t say much, and I was instantly attracted to the arc of woman who begins in menacing watchfulness, punctuated by startling outbursts, and finds her poetic voice thought the course of the play, goaded on by an eccentric man she becomes fascinated by. Shaw points out that P takes a big risk at the end: he has no idea what K is going to say. And then out she comes with the infamous speech.

Of that speech the famous actresses had contradictory things to say: Cusak that it could only be depressing, Shaw that it was an act of liberation within boundaries. And my director? After the read through, and after I confessed to the cast my fear of that speech, Ceal put her arm around me and said, “About that speech. I think it’s very complicated.” Sometimes, early on, it’s nice to be get a little confirmation.