Backstage with 'The Shrew Tamer'

10/07/04 12:00AM By Betty Smith-Mastaler

(Host) A new interpretation of "The Taming of the Shrew" levels the playing field for the sexes. The play Thursday night at Northern Stage in White River Junction.

VPR's Betty Smith takes us Backstage to hear the story of the "The Shrew Tamer."

(Smith) It's an original adaptation of Shakespeare's well known play, combined with one that is largely unknown by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, John Fletcher. Fletcher's play, "The Tamer Tamed," is essentially a sequel to "The Taming of the Shrew."

Two years ago, both plays were revived by The Royal Shakespeare Company. Brooke Ciardelli, artistic director of Northern Stage, saw those productions and had the idea to condense the two plays into a single play in two acts that she has named "The Shrew Tamer."

(Ciardelli) "I was really excited by the discovery of the Fletcher. Shrew is a controversial play and to come to learn that there was a sequel to a play that is often controversial was really artistically exciting because you could take the main thread of it and provide a response to it that was written in the period. In the 'Tamer Tamed,' the value that is given to an equal relationship where neither the male nor the woman is dominant, is very exciting. And that's been a very exciting thing to take within its time period, within its original language and bring to a modern audience."

(Smith) Peter Saccio is the Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies at Dartmouth College. He is also a Northern Stage board member, and artistic advisor to the project.

(Saccio) "What's significant is that it hasn't been done before, not into a single evening so far as we know. It is significant that we get an unknown sequel to a well-known story. It is significant that we have a fascinating and effective contrast in texture. It makes for an appropriate contrast in the dramatic experience, which leads to, of course, the important contrast in the kinds of marriages that happen in the two plays."

(Smith) The marriage between Kate and Petruchio is a struggle in which Kate eventually capitulates. Kate is played by Maren Parry and Petruchio is played by Jefferson Slinkard.

(Excerpt from the play)
(Petruchio) "Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!"
(Katharina) "The moon! The sun: it is not moonlight now."
(Petruchio) "I say it is the moon that shines so bright."
(Katharina) "I know it is the sun that shines so bright."
(Petruchio) "Now, by my mother's son, and that's myself, It shall be moon. Or star, or what I list, Or ere I journey to your father's house. Go on, and fetch our horses back again. Evermore cross'd and cross'd: nothing but cross'd!"
(Katharina) "Forward, I pray, since we have come so far, And be it moon, or sun, or what you please; An if you please to call it a rush-candle, Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me."

(Smith) In the Fletcher sequel, Kate has died and Slinkard's Petruchio takes a second wife, Maria, also played by Maren Parry. And this time the tables are turned.

(Excerpt from the play.)
(Maria) "What's a husband? What are we married for? Are we not one piece with you, and as worthy, Our own intentions as you yours?"
(Petruchio) "Good lady, understand me."
(Maria) "I do too much. You're one Of a most spiteful self-condition: A bravery dwells in your blood yet, of abusing, Your first good wife; you're sooner fire than powder, And sooner mischief."
(Petruchio) "If I be so sudden, Do not you fear me?"
(Maria) "No, nor yet care for you. And, if it may be lawful, I defy you."

(Smith) Thus Shakespeare's rapier-sharp wit becomes less of a guilty pleasure for a post-feminist audience, since we get to see Petruchio receive his come-uppance.

Fletcher's plot includes a woman's rebellion worthy of Aristophanes' Lysistrata. He even gives the women a rousing drinking song in which they declare that henceforth it will be their civic duty to wear the pants in the family.

(Song) "A health for all this day
To the women that bears the sway
And wears the breeches;
Let it come, let it come.

"Let this health be a seal,
For the good of the common-weal,
The women shall wear the breeches!
"Let's drink then and laugh it,
And merrily, merrily quaff it
And tipple and tipple a round;

Here's to thy fool,
And to my fool,
Come, to all fools
Though it cost us, wench, many a pound
The women shall wear the breeches!"

(Smith) For VPR Backstage, I'm Betty Smith.


Note:
"The Shrew Tamer" runs from through October 24 at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction.

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