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This article by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

July 19, 2000. All rights reserved.

A `Shrew’ To Be Tamed

E-mail: JoanCrespi@princetoninfo.com

If "The Taming of the Shrew," Princeton Rep’s

second free Shakespeare production this summer, is as much fun as

the first, the company can claim back-to-back successes. We’ll see.

Princeton Rep’s production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream,"

a broad, bawdy, vigorous interpretation playing through July 23, is

so good it’s literally a hard act to follow. "Taming of the

Shrew"

begins its four-weekend run on Friday, August 3, at Pettoranello

Gardens

in Princeton’s Community Park North, playing Friday through Sundays,

through August 27.

Victoria Liberatori, artistic director of Princeton Rep, is directing

"Shrew." Or rather, she’s taming this "The Taming of the

Shrew," a complex comedy. She chose to do "Shrew," she

says, because it’s one of the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays

(the musical version, "Kiss Me, Kate," is currently a hit

revival on Broadway). She began the play’s three-week rehearsal period

last week in a large room, white walled and white ceilinged, in the

New York Art Academy in Manhattan. The room usually has nude models,

Anne Reiss, Princeton Rep’s executive producer, tells us. Large

painters’

easels are stored at one side, their caramel-colored wood matching

the wood of the room’s columns and ceiling beams. The last 10 days

of rehearsals will take place in Princeton.

When we dropped in briefly on an early rehearsal, Liberatori was

rehearsing

Kate (Missy Thomas) and Petruchio (Donald Kimmel) in a portion of

their first exchange. One of the things that struck us at this early

stage was how well, even with scripts in hand, these professional

actors knew their lines. And they were moving about the stage —

movement with the speeches seemed to come to them as naturally as

speaking. "Concentrate on the words today," Liberatori

counseled.

"Don’t worry too much about the physical stuff. We’ll worry about

the action and blocking later."

"They have this intense verbal joust, which Kate thinks she

wins,"

Liberatori tells the two actors after another run through. And after

another she instructs Kate, "Walk toward him to speak, then walk

away." The thrust and parry was like a verbal fencing match. To

Petruchio she says, "Right now you’re attracted to her physically,

but you also see dollar signs." And after another, "When she

hits you, let that really affect you."

On this first day of rehearsals all was not set in stone. From the

time we viewed the rehearsal in the late afternoon until we

interviewed

Liberatori by phone that night, the setting became firm. In the

afternoon

Liberatori said the production might be set in Italy (like the

original)

if they could get a gondola for Petruchio’s arrival. (Pettoranello

Gardens has a small lake.) By 9:30 p.m. the place was firm: Italy

— gondola or no.

Liberatori is updating the production, setting the time in the late

1970s. One reason for her choice of the ’70s is that Princeton Rep

has Galt MacDermot to compose the incidental music. (MacDermot is

the composer of "Hair" and "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

His music defined theatrical music for an era, she says, and was

extremely

influential in hip-hop.) Design is another reason. "Males dressed

as elaborately as women then. It gives us freedom to explore the look

of the show."

Yet another reason, she points out, was that this was the time of

a worldwide feminist movement, which eventually spread to Italy, but

which was not as pronounced in Italy as in the United States. "It

would be difficult to have a female character like Kate set in America

of the 1970s," she says. "Whereas Kate, as an Italian, would

be from a good Catholic and conservative, upper-class family, and

would be less a rebel (although she is one) than an American woman

of the time." Also, the ’70s was a time of great contrast, she

says, citing the conservative contingent and the aftermath of the

hippie era. "Taming of the Shrew," she adds, "is about

opposites."

How does Liberatori see this play? "Petruchio is

as much a shrew as Kate is in this play," she says. "Both

of them have to grow into an understanding of what it means to have

a relationship with another person, and that means compromise and

accommodation. And he does that as well as she does. In the play they

both go on a journey together, and Petruchio discovers a partner in

life worth loving and worth investing his time in. Just as Kate learns

about herself, Petruchio learns about himself."

"These are two people who would probably never get married if

they hadn’t met each other," she continues. "Each requires

someone who is equal in intelligence and intensity. Neither one has

been able to establish intimacy with another human being. Both are

outside society; both are, in a sense, orphans. Petruchio’s father

is dead, and Kate’s family and those around her are against her."

What does Petruchio get out of the match, besides money? "The

same thing Kate gets out of it," she says and quotes Petruchio:

"Peace it bodes, and love, and quiet life." "Though

Petruchio’s

motive at the beginning is dollar signs," she acknowledges, "I

think he slowly falls in love with her."

Both the main and the subplot are set out, or at least hinted at,

in Baptista’s first speech to his daughter Bianca’s two suitors,

Hortensio

and the aging Gremio. Baptista, played by Tim Boisbert, is the wealthy

father of two daughters, the elder daughter, the shrewish Katherina

(Missy Thomas), and sweet and modest Bianca (Cori-Lynn Campbell).

Baptista steadfastly refuses to let Bianca be married, or even wooed,

until her older sister has a husband. Watching the scene, Lucentio

falls instantly in love with the sweet, mild, and acquiescent Bianca,

so now she has three would-be suitors. Katherina has none.

Until Petruchio arrives to visit his friend Hortensio, but also

"to

wive it wealthily in Padua." Although both Hortensio and Gremio

are eager to marry off Katherina so they can court Bianca, they warn

Petruchio of Katherina’s scolding tongue. He dismisses that, declaring

that "be she old, foul, curst, or shrewd," that’s no deterrent

if she’s rich enough.

The subplot concerns Bianca’s suitors and their ruses to court the

cloistered girl. Hortensio poses as a musician, Lucentio as a scholar

who exchanges identities with his servant Tranio (James Rana).

Lucentio

promises Gremio to represent him to Bianca, but it’s his own suit

he’ll present. Figure in disguises, schemes, lies, deceits, and

finally

the appearance of Lucentio’s true father, Vincentio, to accuse the

false one, the Pedant, himself duped by lies, of usurping his

identity.

All this, which provides some good comedy, is interwoven with the

hugely comic and saucy Katherina-Petruchio story.

Main plot and subplot interwoven, the story turns back to the main

plot. Katherina argues with and strikes Bianca, then berates her

father.

Petruchio demands of Baptista what dowry Kate will have if she is

his wife. The two make a contract, but Baptista insists that first

Petruchio must obtain Kate’s love and gives him permission to woo

her.

When Kate breaks the lute over the would-be musician Hortensio’s head,

Petruchio declares, "It is a lusty wench! I love her 10 times

more." Petruchio, vowing to call Kate the opposite of whatever

she does, praises her mildness to her face and straightaway asks her

to be his wife. After caustic, witty repartee, Kate strikes him.

Petruchio

calls her "pleasant, courteous," parrying all her verbal

thrusts.

To Baptista, her father, Kate calls Petruchio "half lunatic."

Petruchio to Baptista calls Kate "modest as the dove . . .

patient,"

and lies that they have agreed, that Kate loves him, and he sets the

wedding date for Sunday. Kate says she’ll see him hanged first, but

Baptista readily seals the match, and Petruchio sets off to buy

wedding

apparel, so he says.

But it’s not until Act III, Scene 2, the wedding day,

that Petruchio abandons his gracious blandishments and changes his

tactics altogether. Here what we think of as "The Taming of the

Shrew" truly begins. The priest and Katherina are ready at the

ceremony, but Petruchio keeps her waiting, to great embarrassment.

When he does appear, he’s crazily dressed; so is his footboy. Married,

he becomes a devil, a fiend. Petruchio won’t stay for the wedding

dinner but leaves and takes an angry and resisting Kate with him,

asserting, "I will be master of what is mine own. She is my goods,

my chattels; she is my house."

On his way home, it’s related, Kate’s horse stumbled, fell on her,

and she fell in the muck. Petruchio beat his page, Grumio, for letting

it happen, while Katherina prayed and pleaded for him. At home

Petruchio

strikes his servants, denies Kate meat, complaining that it’s burnt;

Kate pleads in vain to have it. In bed, he rails and brawls, and won’t

let her sleep.

Back in Padua, Hortensio sees Bianca and Lucentio kissing and gives

up Bianca, resolving instead to marry a wealthy widow. A wandering

Pedant is persuaded by a lie to impersonate Lucentio’s father,

Vincentio.

This false Vincentio promises Baptista that his son Lucentio, now

dressed as Tranio, will have a sufficient dowry and the match is made

between Bianca and Lucentio.

Back to the main plot: With Kate starved and giddy for lack of sleep,

Petruchio gives her meat and forces her to thank him. He resolves

to return to her father’s house, but rejects the cap and the gown

a tailor has made for her. More, he will not be crossed; she must

say it is whatever time he says it is. Katherina and Petruchio travel

to her father’s house, and Petruchio instructs her to say the sun

is the moon and the moon is the sun. Otherwise he threatens to go

back home. On the road the main and sub-plots merge as Kate and

Petruchio

meet the true Vincentio. He’s an old man, but, at Petruchio’s

description,

Kate greets him as "young, budding virgin." They show him

to Lucentio’s house, where this true Vincentio argues with the Pedant

posing as Vincentio. The ruses unravel; Lucentio, now married to

Bianca,

acknowledges his true father, and all is made right. But the play

is not finished.

The actors come with long lists of credits, both New York and

regional,

and many have movie, television, and commercial credits, as well as

previous productions of several Shakespeare plays. The include Donald

Kimmel as Petruchio, Missy Thomas as Kate, and Cori-Lynn Campbell

as Bianca. Erik Sherr, as Hortensio, is a member of the resident

acting

company of the Elizabethan Shakespeare Company in Hoboken. Joe Narciso

plays Grumio, Josh Blumenfeld, who performed in Princeton Rep’s

"Twelfth

Night" last year, takes on four minor roles.

Also featured are two actors from this year’s "A Midsummer Night’s

Dream:" James Rana plays Tranio and Princeton resident Karen

Traynor,

who plays the spunky Hermia in "Dream," plays Lucentio’s

servant,

Biondella. Princeton resident Fern-Marie Aames is the stage manager.

The play ends with the banquet in Lucentio’s house and the famous

contest. Hortensio, Lucentio, and Petruchio, each newly married, each

wager 100 crowns that his wife is the most obedient and will be the

first to come when sent for. Lucentio’s Bianca, then Hortensio’s

Widow,

each refuses to come. It is Petruchio’s wife, Kate, who comes, then

goes out and returns with Bianca and the Widow, and (in a speech that,

Liberatori suggests, might be a set-up between Petruchio and Kate

to show the others) Kate lectures them:

women. . .

are bound to serve, love, and obey…

Then place your hands below your husband’s foot.

That’s over four centuries ago. Today? Not. Liberatori assures

us she has some none-traditional ideas for how this speech will be

delivered. Again, we’ll see.

— Joan Crespi

The Taming of the Shrew, Princeton Rep’s Shakespeare

Festival , Pettoranello Gardens, Mountain Avenue & Route 206,

609-688-0381.

Shakespeare’s quintessential comedy of gender warfare. Fridays

through Sundays, through August 27. Free, $10 donation suggested.

Friday, August 4, 7 p.m.

Free tickets are distributed at Fleet Financial, 16 Nassau Street,

from Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 9

a.m. to noon. Tickets also at Pettoranello Gardens the evening of

the performance. Website: www.princetonrep.org.


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