Friday, Jun 23, 2017

The Taming of the Shrew (2013)

Left waiting at the alter, Kate (Nell Geisslinger) is not a happy woman. Photo by Jenny Graham

Left waiting at the alter, Kate (Nell Geisslinger) is not a happy woman. Photo by Jenny Graham

The Taming of the Shrew is a difficult play for modern audiences. There are scenes where it is clear that Petruchio is literally torturing Kate to make her submit (sleep deprivation and starvation). He clearly says that this is necessary, he does it for love of her, and he will continue until she submit and agree to whatever he says, completely.
“Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her;
…This is a way to kill a wife with kindness;
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour.”
Act IV, Scene 1

Kate is reviled and belittled, even by her father. She suffers not fools, and being intelligent and knowing how poor her lot in the world (being a woman), she has become — as they say — shrewish. Modern audiences are deeply in sympathy with her position. So it is a tricky play to try to ‘pull off’.
OSF has created a wonderful production that brought a well-deserved standing ovation from the mostly college-age crowd. They cleverly went with a 1950s rockabilly by the boardwalk aesthetic that allowed them to do some clever visual cues that supported the interpretation they were giving. Biana (Royer Buckus) is a lovely girl — and so awkwardly coltish (and doltish) that she is clearly *just* a girl (albeit one who is reading 50 Shades of Gray early on), which makes her whining unhappiness with her marriage all the more understandable. Petruchio (Ted Deasy) is a rockabilly god who’s command of verbal and aural cues is magnificent in its comedic timing. Gremio (played with broad wit by David Kelly) is a loser from the beginning, and Tranio (John Tufts) a clever fellow indeed (and I must say: more comedy Mr. Tufts! More!).
But the star of the play, loudly and clearly, is the superb performance of Ms. Nell Geisslinger. When I first saw her in Bus Stop years ago, I knew she was something special, but her Kate is a magnificent scenery-devouring simmering (and often erupting) ball of energy that makes a potentially tragic figure into a woman we can identify with. The fact that they share a subculture in common (discovered when one of her sleeves is accidentally ripped off) was a wonderful visual cue that allowed the audience to see similarities between Petruchio and Kate. Petruchio admires Kate, from the moment he sees her; their word play, full of double entendre and lightning fast, is a revealing scene that shows Kate as a potential partner, and Petruchio willing to have one. And we realize that Kate stands up to Petruchio, even after he has tortured her; not out of spite, but intelligence. But then, on the side of the road on their way to her sister’s wedding, Kate shifts and becomes compliant . . . in words. But when they reach Padua, her actions speak differently, (and in a way that may make some viewers uncomfortable — I found it to be a perfectly logical ‘hook’ upon which to hang their relationship) and they are welcomed by her husband.
In the end, Deasy completely ‘sells’ Petruchio’s true and deep love for Katerina, just as Geisslinger makes Kate’s shift into compliance one that seems natural. Their love is a solid one, basing itself on mutual respect and clearly having a better chance for happiness than the other two that happen.
“If she and I be pleased, what’s that to you?”
Act II, Scene 1
Taming of the Shrew has become one of my Top Ten productions in nearly 20 years at OSF.