Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

I was assigned to read The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare in literature class. I wasn't thrilled to read anything with a book cover such as the one above, but I endured it. We read a parallel text edition, meaning the original Old English text was on the left side of each double-page and the modern translated version was on the right. We were assigned to read the translated version, then listen to the same chapters in Old English via an audio version while we read along in our books. A short while after finishing The Taming of the Shrew, we went on a field trip to Navy Pier in Chicago, and by extension the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, to see it performed professionally.

This play is about a man named Lucentio who travels to the city of Padua to undergo various courses for his education. Once he arrives, he falls in love, from a distance, with a lovely girl named Bianca. But unfortunately for Lucentio and the girl's suitors, Hortensio and Gremio, Bianca's father Baptista will not offer her hand in marriage until his older daughter Katherine, a hot-tempered shrew, is found a husband. Lucentio then comes up with a brilliant plan: his faithful servant Tranio will pretend that he is Lucentio, and Lucentio will disguise himself as a tutor and try to court Bianca in secret. What ensues is possibly one of the poorest plays in human history... that is, unless performed by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

The plot of The Taming of the Shrew is cliché and downright poor. Any humor that would have been included in the play was dried out by the fact that it's just a script, not a performance. I came away from reading the play knowing that I will never recommend it for anyone. The BBC audio edition added color to a black and white movie—the characters had real personalities—and occasional music or other background noise made for a lot better storytelling than just an unimaginatively blank book. Hearing a whole cast of voice actors and actresses is a lot better than hearing various voices in your head playing the parts or listening to somebody else try to play every part while reading it to you.

My experience with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, however, was completely different. For that, perhaps you should just read my school report, excluding the introductory paragraph that could have been much better.
One of the characters who stood out most in the play was Petruchio, who had taken upon himself the task of courting and wooing the not-so-lovely Katherina to be his wife. Matt Mueller played Petruchio’s part to perfection, but although Ericka Ratcliff did her part very well, the director's portrayal of Katherina could have been improved. Other characters that had notable parts were quite different from their stereotypical personalities, while still staying true to the original script. Hortensio (portrayed by Matthew Sherbach) and Gremio (portrayed by Mick Weber), the only two men openly courting the lovely Bianca (portrayed by Tiffany Yvonne Cox) at the story's beginning, were extreme contrasts in physical form—one older and huge, the other younger and tiny—but very similar in personality. This was one of many ways that the director added to the play's humor through the cast.
Overall, the two-hour trip to Chicago as a school field trip was worth it. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater's version of The Taming of the Shrew was amazing. Although the original script and language were used, it was packed with modern inside jokes from the director and cast, and that added much hilarity to the experience. Surprisingly, the modern rock music that played during various parts and scene changes was fitting. The theater could seat around five hundred people, and due to the amazing architecture and acoustics, the actors could be easily heard by the entire audience without using microphones if they properly projected their voices. A lot of the play’s humor would warrant a PG-13 rating, so it is definitely not a family-friendly play, but it can truly change one’s perspective of The Taming of the Shrew. It was unbelievably well done and, overall, a spectacular experience. This performance surpassed many expectations.
I loved the theater's version of the play, but I don't regret reading the script beforehand. Knowing the story and characters greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the experience. This adaptation felt like a wonderful dessert after an very unappealing dinner. The director took a unique perspective on almost every aspect of the play and, thank goodness, tuned the sexism down several necessary degrees. I would very strongly recommend you check out the play, but the final showing was on April 7, so it's a little too late to attend.

Petruchio may have tamed a shrew, but the Chicago Shakespeare Theater turned a lousy farce into a brilliant comedy.

1 comment:

  1. I've never been a big Shakespeare fan, but adding rock music to his plays just sounds awesome. :)