What room is there for shrew-taming in this #MeToo era? Doesn’t William Shakespeare’s slapstick romp about a bright, independent, feisty female forced into marriage by a major bully jangle today’s enlightened sensibilities?
OK, Katherina isn’t just feisty — more like easily enraged and prone to violence. But she’s got good reasons for that, starting with the limited, subservient role society has stuck her with in “The Taming of the Shrew.” This summer, Metropolitan Performing Arts has unleashed an updated, streamlined version (under two hours) of Shakespeare’s most controversial comedy.
“Maybe she’s a little crazy, but I think she’s misunderstood,” Arianna Dorenbosch said of the rebellious, unruly character she plays. “She realizes that she needs someone smart enough to keep up with her.”
That someone is the mercenary Petrucio, confidently portrayed by Laura Hankins. It’s a simple, effective way of neutralizing the offensive gender dynamics in “The Taming of the Shrew,” director Kristin Heller said: make Petrucio a woman too.
“I don’t think he’s a completely terrible person,” Hankins said of the wily wild-man she portrays as a wily wild-woman. “Maybe his methods aren’t the best, but he’s a little crazy too. I think that’s what attracts Katherina to him. Everyone treats her like an inferior, but he lets her act out. Then he tries to match it.”
IF YOU GO
What: “The Taming of The Shrew,” by William Shakespeare, directed by Kristin Heller.
Presented by: Metropolitan Performing Arts.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Mended Oak Winery, 10209 N.E. 299th St., Battle Ground.
When: 2 p.m. Aug. 10; 6 p.m. Aug. 11
Where: Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center, 12208 S.E. Evergreen Highway.
• • •
What: Third annual Shakes Beer & Wine Festival.
Presented by: Original Practice Shakespeare Company.
Play: “Love's Labour’s Lost,” by William Shakespeare.
When: 4 p.m. Aug. 17.
Play: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by William Shakespeare.
When: 4 p.m. Aug. 18.
Where: Say Ciao! Columbia River Taproom and Eatery, 2501 S.E. Columbia Way, No. 270, Vancouver.
Except, in this version, he is she. Same-sex marriage was unheard-of in 1590s England, but nobody in Metropolitan’s production even blinks at the idea; they’re more concerned about these two larger-than-life individuals making a life together.
“We’re digging into those moments where our lead characters really see one another” in all their depth and complexity, Heller said. That appears to be Shakespeare’s real theme here: super-strong people, obviously true equals and natural partners, who fall in love despite their vastly different roles and privileges.
It doesn’t look good at first, as both Katherina and Petrucio behave in ways that today’s prosecutors might pursue as domestic violence.
“There’s a lot of punching and kicking and fighting,” Heller said. Metropolitan hired fight choreographer Kristen Mun to train the actors in staying safe while pretending to mix it up onstage.
Meanwhile, the characters also exchange cellphone calls and texts. Those were also unheard of in Shakespeare’s day, but they sure do speed up this production — and add a little more clever comedy to the mix. “Modernizing Shakespeare is always fun,” said Metropolitan Executive Director Barbara Richardson.
This is a small-cast production featuring five adults in the leading roles and five high schoolers in supporting roles.
“We wanted to give teens a chance to work alongside adult actors,” Richardson said, “and have an experience that ups their game.”
A very different type of Shakespearean performance is headed later this month to Say Ciao!, a small taproom and restaurant near the Vancouver waterfront east of Interstate 5.
According to the Original Practice Shakespeare Company, the historically authentic way to do Shakespeare is more or less to wing it.
There’s virtually no rehearsal before this troupe of professional thespians hits the stage. They’re assigned roles and little scrolls that contain each actor’s lines and cues, but not the entire play. In Shakespeare’s day, troupe leader Brian Allard explained, theaters were eager to keep their hottest hits secure and prevent them from getting stolen and upstaged by their rivals. There was no such thing as touching a button and printing out a whole play script.
That results in uniquely spontaneous and audience-interactive performances. When Original Practice Shakespeare actors get lost, as they inevitably do, a prompter helps them get found again. Booing, cheering and swooning are encouraged. Don’t be surprised if some actor wandering the audience while speechifying winds up sitting in your lap and speechifying directly at you.
It’s not quite improvisation, but it’s “improv-ish,” the Original Practice motto goes. “Because Shakespeare should be a little dangerous.”
Say Ciao! will host its third annual “Shakes Beer and Wine Festival” with free performances of the comedies “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at 4 p.m. Aug. 17 and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at 4 p.m. Aug. 18 in the front parking lot. Bring lawn chairs and blankets. A half-hour intermission will let you purchase some food and drink from Say Ciao!