REVIEW: TAMING OF THE SHREW
by Devon James
A couple of noteworthy mentions of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is that it is the 2nd oldest festival of its kind in the Country. And TAMING OF THE SHREW is currently the launch of their 60th season. To witness and take part in something with that much theatrical history is inspiring to say the least. The very first production was staged in 1944, and ironically (or not) this particular production has been set in the 1940’s- New York City, Little Italy to be exact. If you have never ventured over to the Mary Rippon Theatre (named after the first female professor at CU Boulder, and the first woman in the US to teach at a State University), then you are greatly missing out. The setting of the stage between the old campus buildings with the pine trees, and the ambiance of the great outdoors makes for a one of a kind theatre experience. No matter the show, the elements at hand, or the travel time, the venue itself is worth the cost of a ticket.
While the venue name may be an homage to the successful rise of a woman, it can be quite difficult to see TAMING OF THE SHREW as anything more than a sexist and chauvinistic expression of our past. The name itself is pretty insulting within context. You have a wealthy father, Baptista (powerfully and commandingly played by Robert Sicular) practically trafficking his female daughters to the suitor of his choosing. Each suiter focused more on the approval of the father, the look/behavior quality of the woman, and the amount of their dowries than their actual affections. Certainly setting this piece in the 40’s makes these circumstances easier to swallow, and Katherine’s monologue in Act 5, Scene 2 (genuinely and clearly conveyed by Shelly Gaza) allows us to shift our mindset and be a bit more educated on the circumstances of the times.
“Thy Husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience–
Too little payment for so great a debt.”
Although, hearing these words from a female cast as a WAR PILOT may seem like a stretch, leaving you wondering why HER war efforts are viewed “less than” that of her counterpart, Petruchio (Masterfully and intriguingly played by Scott Coopwood), you still gain the understanding that “equality” looked very different in the 1940’s. It especially had a different definition in the late 1500’s; the time of the play’s origin. The end result had me thinking about how I have personally judged women who seemingly take the backseat of a relationship. It got me thinking that what I may have previously perceived as the “backseat,” may actually feel and be more comparable to the passenger seat than I had initially imagined. Who is to say men don’t value those female roles as they value their own? Perhaps WE (myself and other feminist thinkers) are the ones giving them the disproportionate weight. Food for thought is always a “win” in regards to theatre. I’m curious if or how this challenged any of the women in their crafting of these female characters.
Something I feel CO Shakes embraces is this idea of a “communal experience”. They are always looking for ways, particularly in the outdoor productions, to invite the audience into their world. Not only does this give the smaller character roles an opportunity to be further utilized, but it also sets the stage for a more immersive look at what they’ve created. It adds value, enhances creativity, and allows for a more personalized touch to each piece. With this, however, comes a need to be a bit cleaner on cohesion, transitions, and moment to moment scene work. SHREW offers many wonderful moments, some examples included are: Bianca & Lucentio’s “lovescapade”-specifically and perfectly timed by Director Christopher Duval and endearingly played out by actors Rachel Turner and Christopher Joel; Hortensio’s guitar quarrel-hilariously delivered by Casey Andree; the wonderfully creative fights choreographed by Duval and assisted by Benaiah Anderson & Ava Kostia; and practically any moment involving Scott Coopwood as Petruchio. However, I couldn’t help but feel there was still a need for cohesion in regards to the production as a whole. On part of the direction, as I mentioned, there were many moments that “worked”. But, the staging was distracting in moments and lacked a use of the entire space in others. Something I wanted to see more of was the heart and honesty of this piece. I wanted the entire show to be as fun as the ending dance number, choreographed by Erika Randall. I never felt like we got any further than the surface, making it challenging for me to care about the outcome, whether character or story. Sound was still finding itself during my performance, but Jason Ducat does a great job of marrying sound to space. Meghan Anderson Doyle has such a delightful style/esthetic in her designs, and always takes any task to a whole other level, but Petruchio’s wedding attire seemed like a deviation from the already established character. Perhaps that was the point, and now I will gently place my foot in my mouth. Lighting is always stunning to me in this venue. I love the way it bounces off the space and I loved the mood of the signage designed by Shannon McKinney. Caitlin Ayer nailed the vibe with the set, as it felt very reminiscent of the actual “Little Italy” of NYC. Set design in this space offers extended challenges what with designs that need to be easily dismantled and reconstructed. And the sizing of the set pieces not only make sense for the size of the actors, but also appropriately fill the space without disappearing. McKinney clearly knows how to take on these challenges. However, I think the incline of the steps matched with the close quarters of the platform behind the doors certainly seemed to cause some staging and blocking issues that had me empathizing for the actors maneuvering it like a rock climbing wall.
Overall, time is on their side. My experience comes before the product was at completion; as I was part of an invited preview audience. The rehearsal period is something like 3 weeks for these shows, which in the world of theatre is minimal. Talent from all over the Country is brought together for the first time and asked to play as if they have had a relationship for years. The artistic team is working with this new talent for the first time as well. To top it off, some of the performers and artistic team have never worked in a space like this with elements like these. There is a learning curve, and a need for a settling period before any real critiques can be taken without a grain of salt. Scratch that, all perspectives and critiques should be taken with a grain of salt. Theatre is subjective. Colorado Shakespeare Festival offers productions that are enjoyed by all ages for a number of very important reasons. There is much to love and celebrate about the work put out by CSF, and I sincerely hope you will venture out to experience it. For more information on this production, the Season, the history of Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and to purchase tickets, go to: www.cupresents.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer Koskinen