July 16, 2010
By Richard Duckett TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
As well as being very amusing, William Shakespeare's comedy “The Taming of the Shrew” has drawn plenty of analysis, interpretation and controversy from the time it was first performed in the early 1590s.
The Worcester Shakespeare Festival, at the Memorial Grove Amphitheater in Green Hill Park, Worcester, looks all set to offer its illuminations to the hilarity and ruminations beginning next week.
First, an edge-of-the-Cliff Note or two: Katherina (Kate) of Padua is headstrong, but as the eldest daughter of a rich family, she must be married off somehow for other marriage plans to fall into place. Enter Petruchio of Verona, also very willful (and looking for a rich wife), who declares he will not only court Kate but marry her forthwith. All sorts of subplots abound, as the verbal sparks fly between Kate and Petruchio. But at the end Kate surprises a lot of people by speaking the language of subservience. Petruchio and Kate leave a banquet headed happily to bed. So what do we make of this? Has Kate, in fact, been tamed? Is this a misogynist's dream?
Two actors have special reasons to think about those and other issues concerning Kate. Cassie Brehmer is playing Kate at Green Hill Park. So, too, is Max Louscher.
The Worcester Shakespeare Company is staging two productions of “The Taming of the Shrew” for this summer's festival. One production, which officially opens 6 p.m. Wednesday, has what director (of both shows) Mel Cobb calls “familiar casting,” with male actors in the men's roles and females in the women's roles. “Shrew, Too” is also a fully staged version of the play — but with an all-male cast.
Could we call the latter nontraditional casting? Be careful with what traditions you are talking about. In Shakespeare's time, male actors played all the roles in his plays.
“It's a little bit bolder, a little bit more provocative than what we've done in the past,” said Cobb, who is also artistic director of the Worcester Shakespeare Company, about staging two “Shrews.” “Shrew, Too” will debut Aug. 4. Both productions will also be staged at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts on Aug. 21 (“The Taming of the Shrew”), and Aug. 22 (“Shrew, Too”).
“The primary choice overall for us is to entertain and amuse as much as possible,” Cobb said during a recent interview before an indoor rehearsal at Clark University. “Along with that, it's to entertain and amuse in a provocative, thought-provoking way.”
Cobb said he has no overt agenda as director, but there are some things he would like to see happen. “People can see one cast, one Kate, and come back and see the other Kate. This provides a real opportunity for people to talk about the issues themselves. We want them to laugh and have a great time, and then go away and talk about it.”
The actors playing the two Kates said they were still finding their way.
“I don't really have any real preconceived notion on how to play a female role. I'm just doing what seems natural,” said Louscher of Worcester, who is starting his senior year this fall at Hudson High School.
Brehmer, who lives in Pittsburgh and is returning to the Worcester Shakespeare Festival, said, “I think she is very often played as wild and highly emotional, but I think she has a point of view on life. I think Petruchio realized what she is, and I think she falls in love, which is the downfall of every woman.”
As for what she makes of the apparent submissiveness at the end, Brehmer said, “I don't know yet. As I think right now, she's a woman who's fallen very deeply in love. In my mind, it's not being submissive, it's to help hold him up.”
Dan Derks plays Petruchio in both productions, and in rehearsals he's seen two Kates both literally and in terms of performance.
“Oh, yeah, definitely. They bring different things to Kate and ideally I should be reacting in the moment. Different moments come out, which is really cool and interesting,” he said. Derks, a Clark graduate who is also a festival returnee, said, “Max's Kate is much more reserved. Cassie, she'll go in for a jab, so these call for different tactics on Petruchio's part.”
Cobb liked what he was hearing. “This is part of the philosophy of the company. It's not about always trying to realize a director's concept. When Cassie and Max say, ‘I don't know yet,' that's exactly where I want them to be right now.”
He is not unfamiliar with Shakespeare. Cobb spent 15 years in London working on rebuilding Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and then acting with its new company. Next he joined Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.
One concept he has picked up in Shakespeare is that men and women are the same, except for the obvious. With Max's Kate (and the other men playing women in “Shrew, Too”), “there is no attempt to change the way one normally behaves. We don't change the voice. We don't change the way the character moves.”
It may be worth bearing in mind that Shakespeare begins “The Taming of the Shrew” with an “induction” in England where a lord plays a trick on a drunkard named Christopher Sly, who wakes up after a binge to find himself in a lord's bed. Sly thinks that he is actually a lord, and then servants tell him a troupe of actors has arrived to present a play for him — which unfolds as “The Taming of the Shrew.” So “Shrew” is a play within a play, and right away we know that we are dealing with false realities.
In any event, the play is always going to be the thing …
Louscher wasn't planning on playing Kate when he showed up for auditions in May that were held in the Ship Room of the Hotel Vernon. He accompanied his older brother, Hunter Louscher, who was also cast in the play. “I thought I might as well give it a shot,” Louscher said.
“Max just clicked,” Cobb said of the audition and casting him as Kate.
“I was surprised. I don't have nearly as much experience as Dan and Cassie,” Louscher said.
“It's a huge, huge challenge,” Cobb noted.
“I'm very happy,” Louscher said. “I'm still a little terrified of the whole experience, but it's great.”
Call it, “The Summer of the Shrew.”
Gaudete Academy, a theater group for teens and young adults that specializes in the works of Shakespeare, will stage its production of “The Taming of the Shrew” at 7 p.m. Aug. 5, 6 and 7 at the Riverview of the Hudson Portuguese Club, 13 Port St., Hudson. Tickets (only available at the door) are $15; $12 students and seniors.
Alicia Santello of Berlin plays Kate, and Keith Caram of Hudson is Petruchio. Emily C.A. Snyder directs.