Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I return and tame the shrew

After nearly a month without a posting, I'm back with one new post and plenty of ideas...

I have been jolted from my word-sleep by a middle-of-the-road community college production of The Taming of the Shrew. I first read the play, by Mr. R. Shakespeare a couple of months ago, in September. Then, I didn't have none too high opinions of it all. It struck me as the same old Battle of the Sexes - *yawn* - only with a strong misogynistic twist, courtesy of the times or Shakespeare himself, or whatever. I only read it so I could have something to disagree with when a feminist came calling with her obviously correct ideas about the inherent sexism of the play. My figuring was: "She may be right, but I'll be damned if she ever knows."

It's the same kind of thinking, I think, that runs through Petruchio's mind every time he picks up Kate and hauls her off to his house. (The audition fliers of every production of Taming of the Shrew ought to always say "Petruchio: All candidates must be able to fireman's carry a 150 pound woman for at least 300 yards.") In our production it was the typical fiery and diminutive Kate vs the typically tall and timber Petruchio. In the "Battle of the Sexes" here Kate puts up one hell of a fight, but ends with her hands underneath her husband's boot - willingly! of all things...

Truth be told it was this awful breaking of Kate's spirit, implied so well by the title, that initially gave an unpleasant rumbling in my tummy. And the unpleasantness comes to a head right at the end, when Kate gives her infamous speech. For a long time, naturally, the speech was given in total honesty (by a man); then, somewhere along the line, someone decided to deliver it with a wink and a nod. "She's only joking, everyone," says the director -- and Mr. Shakespeare is far too dead to say otherwise. In our production, however, the vitriolic speech is merely glazed over and the whole darn controversy along with it.

This production had nothing of the political or contentious about it. It featured instead lots of pelvic thrusting and silly sound effects. There was this girl who spent most of her time at the back of the stage, behind a cart with a variety of noise-makers sitting on it. It was her job to hit a drum every time an actor pretended to strike another actor, to honk a horn every time an actor sensually squeezed at the air in front of him. The one set of lines she had she delivered in an unsurprising Frankenstein fashion.

The performance may have overused the sound effects, especially the comic horn. Even seemingly innocuous phrases are knocked down to the level of groundling humor by the likes of the comic horn. "The reward is in the doing." (honk honk) and "The Universe is very, very big." (honk honk). I am not, nor will I ever be, inherently against the naughty sound effect or pelvic thrusting. Even a professional performance of Othello I saw fairly recently made ample use of the latter. And it makes sense: many, these days are inclined to call every Shakespeare play a "mouldy tale" as Ben Jonson did to Pericles, and sound effects act as a cheap way of spicing up the moldier bits.

Really, how much chocolate can you eat before your teeth begin to rot? Still, our group was rolling, most of the time. It only makes sense: we are all long-time casual fans of Monty Python, our teeth are yellow and crooked, and we still thoroughly subscribe to the idea that anything said in a British accent is just that much funnier. I'm sure if the Globe was still around today we'd be packed into the ground floor, throwing wisecracks and vegetables at the stage. As it is, the seating arrangements were "anywhere but the front row," and as for the vegetables... my girlfriend snuck in some hummus from the charity refreshment table.

There the atmosphere was soft and humorous, a gentle no-excuses take on William Shakespeare, and a great way to spend $10 and an evening. And, although what we took in that evening was hardly William Shakespeare, setting aside for now discussion of the play itself, this performance has so impressed itself upon me that "Taming of the Shrew" now has a pretty gold star resting next to it in the dictionary of my mind...

Now here's to another long ride on the saddle -- or at least another month!

No comments:

Post a Comment