The Taming of the Shrew

The Shakespearean canon is so old at this point (400 years), and so oft' performed, that a good many intrinsic truths have been revealed about the text. Even the "problematic" plays and the authorship question have been solved, at least to the satisfaction of this critic. So when it comes to adapting Shakespearean works to times and cultures other than that of the playwright's invention, there are some conditions that beg to be met, including a reasonably consistent fit between the newly chosen setting and the original, and, most importantly, some new insights derived from the juxtaposition.

Since it is the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's custom to adapt two or three of its productions each year, questions concerning the successful achievement of our aforementioned conditions are regularly called into play. In the current production of The Taming of the Shrew, director Robin McKee has chosen to substitute Miami, Florida in the 1950's for Padua, Italy of the late 16th Century. We land at a pastel laden drive-in movie theatre, replete with finned Chevy's, bowling shirts, and poodle skirts, all set to the music of Sinatra, the Lettermen, and other popular period artists.

The characters are a combination of gringos and Cubanos, an unfortunate choice given the questions over gender politics that surround the text. According to her own notes, McKee takes the male attitudes of Elizabethan England at face value, thus relegating a playwright who has created so many strong female characters to little more than a milder version of his contemporary chauvinistic counterparts.

These choices are reinforced by framing the story as a comedy, rather than a farce, thus attempting to make lopsided relationships funny rather than absurd. While this may be a common interpretation of the play, it does nothing to illuminate why a sensitive playwright would frame love relationships in this imbalanced manner.

Another lost opportunity is in the enigmatic Induction, which precedes the actual play. Why, we ask, does this strange encounter preface the action? Given the plethora of modern scholarship on the authorship question, it's disappointing to see these scenes performed simply as part of a play within a play, when they so clearly represent the playwright's commentary on how a shill, whose name was used as a ruse to present the plays for someone who could not write for attribution, came to usurp the rightful owner.

Then there are the inconsistencies in the word substitutions used to localize the text. For example, geographical references are freely switched from Italian sites to Florida locales, but common objects such as "horses" remain in the text when "cars," which are much in evidence, would have worked with ease. Accents, too, are taken up and discarded. Finally, the interpersonal dynamics derived from status and rank in the original production are lost in Miami.

Photo of Tony Molina as Petruchio and Sarah Fallon as Kate
Tony Molina as Petruchio
and Sarah Fallon as Kate
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
Despite these shortcomings, there is work to be admired. Sarah Fallon, as Kate, and Tony Molina, as Petruchio, are an energetic and combustible match, equal masters at repartee and sarcasm: Fallon's feistiness and physical confidence sets up a hard to break Kate; Molina's braggadocio and slick charm make Petruchio a formidable foe; immoveable object meets irresistible force.

But the naïve acceptance of the text as a tit-for-tat indication for the action weakens Kate's transformation, leaving us to question how this liberated woman's docility has been so easily bought. When Kate kneels before Petruchio in the last scene, one wonders if Phyllis Shafly hadn't somehow escaped detection at the Boulder city limits and snuck onto the stage. This is a play where the subtextual physical indications, when played against the spoken word, make the action plausible. It should be Petruchio on bended knee.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's The Taming of the Shrew runs through August 15th in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline, and Hamlet in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre at the University of Colorado. 303-492-0554.

Bob Bows


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