CREATIVE PEAKS: Punk Rebels in Love

By on July 5, 2016

Off Square Theatre to stage a 1980s version of Taming of the Shrew.

Guest artists Arthur Keng and Joseph O’Malley in rehearsal for The Taming of the Shrew.  (Photo: Clare Payne Symmons)

Guest artists Arthur Keng and Joseph O’Malley in rehearsal for The Taming of the Shrew.  (Photo: Clare Payne Symmons)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Tis the season of The Taming of the Shrew. Which is a strange thing to say considering Shakespeare’s second play is one of his prickliest, and most unpalatable, some say.

In June, Hogarth Press issued a retelling of the play in novel form, Vinegar Hill by Anne Tyler. Also in June, The Public Theater in New York City produced and all-female version of the play in Central Park, directed by the award-winning director Julie Taymor.

And now, Off Square Theatre offers a contemporary Taming as its annual free Thin Air Shakespeare production. The show will run two consecutive weekends, July 8 to 10 and July 15 to 17.

“Our version is set in the early 1980s,” said Natalia Duncan, Off Square’s artistic director. “Katherina and Petruccio are punk rock rebels. They are both outsiders from the rest of the world.”

Macker plays Katherina, or Kate a.k.a. the shrew. She’s the independent-minded, willful sister of Bianca. All the dudes in town are after Bianca—she’s pretty and her dad’s wealthy. But first someone has to marry the elder sister, Kate. Petruccio is pushed into the role of Kate’s suitor. Then all manner of surprises ensue.

Taming is known for its misogynistic view of women as property. It’s also known as a screwball comedy where characters disguise themselves as other characters, and perhaps nobody is exactly who he or she seems to be.

“There are a lot of masters and servants pretending to be someone else,” Macker said. “It’s fun for the audience because they are let in on the joke.”

Macker spearheaded Thin Air Shakespeare four years ago. She said the intention is to have fun, keep the spirit of Shakespeare alive, and help audiences connect with the plays.

“The reason Shakespeare has been popular for the last 400 years is because of timelessness of characters and humanity in the plays,” she said.

Humanity toward women may be in question in Taming. Guest director Edgar Landa says this is the challenge and fun of producing the play today.

“The play was written in a certain time and cultural context that we are viewing through our modern prism,” Landa said. “How Shakespeare meant it is up for grabs.”

Landa knows his Shakespeare. He lives in Los Angeles and works as an actor, director and fight choreographer. He directed last summer’s Thin Air Shakespeare production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He currently serves on the faculty of the USC School of Dramatic Arts and is a long-time member of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA.

Rather than interpreting Kate as shrew-like, Landa chose to capitalize on her independent nature. “In our version of Taming of the Shrew, Kate just doesn’t want to be told what to do,” Landa said. “Hopefully we created a world so that’s evident.”

Macker says the physical comedy gives her character some levity. “I get to beat some people up and that’s pretty fun,” she said.

Both Macker and Landa agree that the famous last speech of the play is the most troublesome to work with. Kate gets the last word in the play, but her words are of subservience:

“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…”

“We can’t change the last speech, which is the most problematic of all,” Landa acknowledged. “We are trying to keep the words as they are and let the emotions in the words be there.”

Part of why her speech may make some uncomfortable, Macker explained, “is because, as much as we want things she says not to be true, some of the things are still true.”

Julie Taymor told The New York Times something similar when discussing her production in New York. “It’s good that we show it, and talk about it. A loudmouth woman with a strong opinion is still considered a shrew in our society.”

Landa says that Kate and Petruccio end up seeing eye to eye. Exactly how that plays out you’ll need to bring a picnic dinner to the Center this weekend to find out.

In addition to Macker, local performers include Scott Willis, Kelsey Johnson, Josh Griffith, Rosie McNamara, Brian Van Hatten, Ruth Ann Petroff, and Ray Fink. Guest artists include Arthur Keng, Joseph O’Malley, Michael Evans Lopez, Tim Venable, Charls Hall as well as Landa, assistant director Maria Pasquarelli, and scenic designer Maureen Weiss. PJH

Off Square Theatre Company, Thin Air Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, July 8-10 and 15-17. The Center Amphitheater. Free. Picnicking begins at 6:30 p.m. Thin Air Shakespeare 7:30 p.m. www.offsquare.org

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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