Shakespeare in the Park – The Taming of the Shrew

First published in 1623, after Shakespeare’s death in 1616 (but performed many times during his lifetime) The Taming of the Shrew is one of his comedic best with intertwining sub-plots, mistaken identities, romance, passion, sharp and witty humour, and a complexity of characters, whose transformations we can enjoy over and over again.

Montreal’s Repercussion Theatre‘s Shakespeare-in-the-Park tour presents a “Fellini-esque” re-imagining of play directed by Andrew Shaver and Paul Hopkins. Presented at various parks in and around Montreal  from July 11 to August 5, 2012.


Before the play, Nino Rota’s soundtrack to Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 sets the mood for the actors opening with a song in Italian, lead by Davide Chiazzese, who plays Baptista. We see a parade of all the main characters on stage, reminiscent of the final scene of 8 1/2, before the action of the play begins and we are introduced to Lucentio (played by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski) and Tranio (played by Jeff Ho).

Both the leads Kirsten Rasmussen (Katharina) and Alex McCooeye (Petruchio) are power-houses and give the play incredible energy. They command the audience’s attention from the moment they step onto the stage, until their final musical duet in Italian. Their fights and exchanges are delightful:

KATHARINA: Gentlemen, forward tot he bridal dinner.
I see a woman may be made a fool.
If she had not a spirit to resist.

Matt Gagnon, who plays Petruchio’s servant Gremio, steals the show on several occasions with his exceptional wit, timing, sound-effect, and understated comedic genius.

PETRUCHIO: Think you a little din can daunt mine ears?
Have I not in my time heard lions roar?
Have I not heard the sea, puff’d up with winds,
Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,
And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies?
Have I not in a pitched battle heard
Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets’ clang?
And do you tell me of a woman’s tongue,
That gives not half so great a blow to hear
As will a chestnut in a farmer’s fire?
Tush, tush! fear boys with bugs.!

The costumes, designed by the very talented Susana Vera, skilfully combine Fellini-chic with Elizabethan touches and colour-code the families to keep the various disguised characters visually and narratively clear. Katharina’s wedding dress is a masterpiece! And so are Petruchio’s sunglasses and pink socks. But perhaps a comedic opportunity was missed when Kate arrives at Petruchio’s home after an incredibly hard journey and her costume is still in-tact:

GRUMIO: First, know my horse is tired, my master and mistress fallen out.
GRUMIO: Out of their saddles into the dirt, and thereby hangs a tale. […] We came down a foul hill, my master riding behind my mistress. […] Her horse fell and she under her horse […] he left her with the horse upon her, how he beat me because her horse stumbled, she waded through the dirt to pluck him off me, how he swore, how she prayed that never prayed before, how I cried, how the horses ran away, how her bridle was burst, how I lost my crupper…

While joyfully entertaining, the play’s last scene, and particularly Katharina’s final speech leaves a slightly bitter after-taste for everyone with gender-equality sensibility.

KATHARINA:  Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms!
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot:
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready; may it do him ease.

While it is certainly delightful to watch the taming of Kate’s shrewness and the comedy that it provokes, the two (male) directors chose to leave Shakespeare’s final scene unchanged, while taking artistic liberties with injecting other dialogues with modern references to art works, inside jokes with the audience, Italian songs, Fellini-inspired humour, etc. Would it be too much to ask to modernize the final speech and update it like the costumes and the music? Why do we celebrate daring aesthetic changes in adaptations, but stay far away from the political ones?

TRANIO: No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en;
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.
KATHERINE: My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
or else my heart concealing it will break.


This entry was posted in Art, Fashion, Feminisms, Montréal, Theatre. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Shakespeare in the Park – The Taming of the Shrew

  1. Kat Sark says:

    Sparks Flew on Tour

    Shakespeare-in-the-Park’s 2012 tour
    of The Taming of the Shrew

    Montréal, August 17th, 2012 – Repercussion Theatre’s 24th edition of Shakespeare-in-the-Park wrapped up its tour of Montreal-area parks on Sunday, August, 5th, 2012. This year’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew was directed by Andrew Shaver and Paul Hopkins and was one of Repercussion Theatre’s most enthusiastically received productions yet. Approximately 10,280 Montrealers, young and old, came out to their community parks to see this hilarious and, at times, controversial production.

    This summer’s sunny and dry July made for wonderful performances under the stars. However, there were a few challenges for our intrepid cast and crew. One show (Pierrefonds) was moved indoors at intermission to the community centre due to rain – to the audience’s delight, the actors completed the performance. One show was cancelled with just 20 minutes remaining due to the threat of fire. In Westmount Park, an electrical wire started to spark and smoke in a tree right behind the stage, while the actors, Alex McCooyee and Kirsten Rasmussen improvised to finish the scene. The fire department was called in and the show was cancelled. Fortunately, the problem was easily resolved the next day and audiences returned to Westmount over the next few evenings to catch the show in its entirety. Finally, an unfortunately intense weather system of wind and rain forced the cancellation our final performance in Ville Saint-Laurent.

    But Westmount Park was not the only place where sparks flew. The Taming of the Shrew sparked some heated debate among media and audiences alike. The Gazette’s Pat Donnelly called the production “anything but tame,” writing that “Petruchio comes across as a shade too nasty and lewd.” The Charlebois Post’s review by Jessica Wei was headlined “First There is the Problem of the Play,” and generated a heated online discussion from readers. Wei, and The Charlebios Post eventually entered into the debate by defending the review. Finally, a few members of the audience wrote in, questioning the play’s appropriateness in this current day and age and describing the play as sexist and misogynistic.

    “I was thrilled by the passionate reactions surrounding this production. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a controversial play which inspires strong feelings and we didn’t shy away from that,” states Paul Hopkins, Repercussion Theatre’s Artistic Director. He adds, “Shakespeare’s plays are still being produced today because they highlight the contradictions that existed and continue to exist in society today. The Taming of the Shrew challenges our values and invites debate.”

    Of course, there wouldn’t have been any controversy had the show not been a success. Audiences seemed to adore the show. Paul Yachnin, Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies at McGill University wrote in to say, “…the production of Taming is splendid! Splendid! Funny, fast, smart, colourful, moving too. It makes me want to change the way I teach the play.” One father spoke of his eight-year-old daughter and the affect it had on her. “It’s changed the way she behaves in the house,” he said. “She’d like to be in the production next year and play an important part (but not one with too many lines).”

    With the recent closure of The Mirror and The Hour, audiences depended more and more on the growing attention Shakespeare-in-the-Park received from social media and online publications, including blogs. Yves Rousseau from Le Quatrième declared it “une réalisation délicieuse et colorée,” while Cult Montreal wrote the production was “high energy and sharp” and Bloody Underrated had this to say: “indisputably sexist, yet absolutely hilarious, Repercussion’s version is even complete with heartwarming musical interludes.”

    The two lead actors, Kirsten Rasmussen and Alex McCooeye, were often described as impressive and were commended for their excellent comedic timing and chemistry. The Charlebois Post wrote, “Alex McCooeye as Petruchio could give lessons to Don Juan on wooing a lady. Fred Astaire could learn a thing or two from McCooeye’s fluid body movements.” Suites Culturelles claimed that “both the leads, Kirsten Rasmussen (Katharina) and Alex McCooeye (Petruchio), are power-houses and give the play incredible energy.” The live Italian a cappella chorus led by Davide Chiazzese was a striking element of the production that delighted audiences.

    Audience members shared their enthusiasm with the actors after each show, including children, for many of whom it was their first time seeing a live Shakespeare performance.

    As they do each year, Repercussion Theatre collected non-perishable food items which were then directed to Moisson Montréal, where they will be distributed to foodbanks throughout Montreal.

    Shakespeare-in-the-Park could not have happened this year without the support of various government agencies, corporate sponsors, in-kind media sponsors, the local theatre community, hundreds of donors and dozens of volunteers throughout Montreal. On behalf of the 10,281 Montrealers who came out to see The Taming of the Shrew, Repercussion Theatre would like to thank everyone who helped make the
    2012 Shakespeare-in-the-Park Tour a tremendous success!

    Next year, the 25th anniversary production of Shakespeare-in-the-Park will be William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Repercussion Theatre veteran Amanda Kellock. Ms. Kellock, who started out as an audience member at age 16, is a familiar face for Shakespeare-in-the-Park fans. Since 2004, she has performed in four Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions, including Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing. She also directed the very popular production of Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin for the company in 2007. Outside of Repercussion Theatre, Kellock has directed for the Centaur Theatre and Geordie Productions.

    Karine Kerr-Gillespie
    Phone: 514-931-264 / Fax: 514-939-9763

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