It’ll be Shakespeare minus the mosquitoes at this year’s Freewill Shakespeare Festival.
Due to a storm that wrecked the Hawrelak Park amphitheatre’s new canopy, for the first time ever this year’s festival will run indoors, at the Myer Horowitz. They’ve also pared it down to only one show instead of the usual comedy-tragedy duo. This year it’s The Taming of the Shrew, one of Shakespeare’s early comedies and a play that still gives pause even to seasoned directors. Why? Well, to put it bluntly: by today’s standards, it’s pretty damn sexist.
“It’s hard to escape the text—the word ‘obedient’ is used a lot,” says Nathan Cuckow, who’s playing Hortensio, one of the many suitors of Bianca, the younger sister of Katherina Minola (aka the shrew). “I think it is a challenge in a contemporary context to stage this play and not have it be such an archaic interpretation of the sexes and the gender roles.”
Katherina’s “wooing” by the chauvinistic Petruchio has been the font of a veritable river of scholarly ink. There’s no denying that his methods (reverse psychology, starvation, sleep deprivation) are deplorable. Criminal, even, if it were to happen nowadays. So how is this a comedy?
“I think Petruchio and Kate recognize something about themselves in each other,” says Bobbi Goddard, who’s playing Bianca. “It’s that recognition that makes them good for each other. It’s not really that Kate is a nasty woman who needs to be put in her place—it’s not that at all. It’s that she is not willing to compromise until she meets a person who challenges her ability to be vulnerable and feel love. And Petruchio is also going through all of the things that he’s putting Katherina through. He’s experiencing it with her, so that they can come out the other side together.”
While the play’s main couple may be locked in a battle of the sexes, Goddard and Cuckow have a different set of challenges for their own characters.
“I’ve been trying hard to see [Bianca] as a full person, as a well-rounded person, not just a foil to Katherina,” Goddard notes. “It would be very tempting to make Bianca a little bit brainless or a little bit of a ditz. But that’s not actually how I see her. I think she just has a different way of moving through the world than her sister. My Bianca can be just as bratty, just as impossible in some ways, when you see her behind the scenes with her sister. She’s no angel.”
“Hortensio has kind of a funny journey,” Cuckow says. “He really desperately wants to be married and he looks up to Petruchio as being a man’s man and a guy to achieve whatever conquest he sets his mind to. So for him, he learns maybe not to pursue the one that’s the most beautiful, because she ends up not really caring about him. I think he learns that kindness is more important than beauty in people.”
Until Sun, Jul 27 (8 pm;
weekend matinees 2 pm)
Myer Horowitz Theatre,
$20 – $30