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The Taming of the Shrew

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
--Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 43-44

Scott Coopwood as Petruchio and Shelly Gaza as Katherina
Scott Coopwood as Petruchio
and Shelly Gaza as Katherina
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
The New Oxford American Dictionary, defines a shrew as a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman. The word can be traced to Old English and to related words in the Germanic languages before that, and has undergone a number of transformations—from "dwarf," "devil," and "fox" to its present-day meaning, which is closely associated with Shakespeare (Edward de Vere), who used the term in the title of this play, written about the relationship between his sister and brother-in-law.

What de Vere meant by this word is debatable, since our present-day meaning, as noted above, is derived in-no-small-part from later interpretations of this play, not from its original performance at court directed by the playwright, years before it reached the public stage. But we do have indications from other sources that the meaning is open to interpretation; for example, in 1855, the first translation of this play into Hungarian carries the title, "Makrancos Hölgy," which translates back to English as "The Unruly (or perhaps rambunctious) Lady." (Thanks to Joe Juhász for this point.)

Scott Coopwood as Petruchio and Shelly Gaza as Katherina
Scott Coopwood as Petruchio
and Shelly Gaza as Katherina
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
Thus, the play has become problematic for contemporary, "politically correct" theatregoers. Despite this baggage, the seemingly chauvinistic tone of the play can be altered by various directorial decisions that produce perfectly delightful outcomes, as we see in this clever adaptation directed, with fight choreography, by Christopher DuVal, now running at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's outdoor theatre in Boulder.

DuVal sets the production in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York, immediately following the end of World War II, which provides some poetic license for the various Italian references in the text (De Vere spent the bulk of his 14-month European sojourn in Italy, and over one-third of his theatrical canon—13 plays—are set, all or in part, in Italy). But, better yet, the aftermath of a war, during which women performed many jobs previously held only by men, gives us a martial Katherina (Shelly Gaza), who served with the Women's Army Service Pilots (WASP). Her suitor, Petruchio (Scott Coopwood), an army officer, hears of her substantial dowry as well as her disputatious reputation.

Scott Coopwood as Petruchio and Shelly Gaza as Katherina
Scott Coopwood as Petruchio
and Shelly Gaza as Katherina
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
DuVal's notes in the program guide evidence a sophisticated interpretation of Kate and Petruchio's relationship, and it shows in the finely detailed navigation he provides through complex psychological, emotional, and spiritual waters. As we would expect, it is Kate's arc that sets the tone for the story, and in this Gaza is sublime, humoring Petruchio in much the manner that Hepburn would put up with foibles of men in the romantic comedies of her era, which overlaps with DuVal's setting.

It is the farcical elements of the play that make this possible, as a mere comedy could not defuse the text. Coopwood's take on a military officer is well-tempered, as Petruchio learns the differences between the rules of engagement in the theatre of war and the theatre of love. And love is certainly at the core of this relationship, as we see in the magic moments when they first meet—as both stop dead in their tracks and gaze upon the other—and when they appear the morning after their first night together, connected at their core.

Scott Coopwood as Petruchio and Shelly Gaza as Katherina
Scott Coopwood as Petruchio
and Shelly Gaza as Katherina
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
Just to make sure that we don't miss the equanimity in this power dance, DuVal has Petruchio go down on one knee earlier than this is ususally done, if it is done at all. Out of this deft mix of ingredients, we see a totally believable relationship that belies the farcical pyrotechnics; it is a partnership tempered by fire and, just so we don't forget the playwright's point, he compares its basis to the other key relationships in the play, between Lucentio (Christopher Joel Onken) and Bianca (Rachel Turner) and between Hortensio (Casey Andree) and the Widow (Anne Sandoe).

(Left to right) Casey Andree as Hortensio, Rachel Turner as Bianca, and Christopher Joel Onken as Lucentio
(L to R) Casey Andree as Hortensio,
Rachel Turner as Bianca,
and Christopher Joel Onken as Lucentio
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
Call it animal magnetism, or whatever you like, Kate and Petruchio clearly have something powerful going on here. The subplots are fun as well. While those gents who pursue the blonde, conventional Bianca share some similar motivations with Petruchio toward Kate, these do not include the depth of conviction that underscores Kate and Petruchio's bond, despite the sweet attraction captured by Turner and Onken, and the mutually beneficial marriage of convenience convincingly portrayed by Sando and Andree.

Meghan Anderson Doyle's costumes provide wonderfully nostalgic rear-view mirror images of an expensive women's hat, an outlandish male zoot suit, and lots more classics from the late '40's. Caitlin Ayer's single-family brownstones shine under Shannon McKinney's transparent lighting. The period soundtrack by Jason Ducat is sweet, and still nostalgic to elders.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's presentation of The Taming of the Shrew runs through August 13th, in repertory with Hamlet and Julius Caesar. For tickets: cupresents.org/tickets.

Bob Bows



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