The Taming of the Shrew
 by William Shakespeare
 Stetson University Stover Theatre
 April 2002

This classic comedy was characterized by an eclectic, post-modern sensibility based on two conceptual ideas. The first dealt with the play as a complex, layered piece of metatheatre; the second consisted of gender experiments in casting. These concepts were justified by the non-gender-specific theatrical tradition of Shakespeare's age as well as the play-within-the-play structure of the work. At the heart of this conceptual mix was the premise that there is more to the play than the traditional  "war between the sexes" interpretation might suggest; this production sought to discover those "extras" by highlighting the play's metatheatrical structure with a special treatment of the Induction (a "prologue" to the play, which is often omitted).

In the Induction, a drunken man, Christopher Sly, wanders out of a bar, chased by a barmaid demanding payment for some broken items. While she goes to get the police, he falls asleep and is discovered by a Lord out hunting. The Lord decides to play a trick on Sly and convince him that he's been unconscious for fifteen years, dreaming the life that he has come to know as his own, and that in reality, Sly is a Lord married to a beautiful lady (which turns out to be a man in a dress as part of the prank). While they take Sly back to the palace to clean him up, the Lord hires a group of traveling actors to put on a play for him. This play-within-a-play is called "The Taming of the Shrew." Only once after the play-within-the-play has started does Sly say anything; in fact, he seems to disappear from view and never returns, so that the end of the play-within-the-play is the actual end of Shakespeare's play.

For this production, Sly's Lady (a man in a dress) first joined him at his seat in the front row of the audience as the actors "loaded-in" scenery, props and costumes onto the (apparently) bare stage, then was whisked away by the "stage manager" during his "light check" to play the part of Bianca in the play-within-the-play. Elsewhere in the presentation, men played female characters and women played male characters; the criteria behind these casting decisions were first, comic potential and second, gender commentary. To have the ideal feminine beauty played by a man in a dress not only highlights the arbitrariness of such determinations, but is also a critique of the male consciousness that defines and presents the ideal. Sly remained in the front row for the rest of the show, rising to wildly applaud it and take his place on stage for the curtain call.

As low-budget "actors in a play," the acting company used whatever costumes and props they might "find" in their standard inventory. Therefore, costumes suited the nature of the character rather than a specific period, and props were often unrealistic and outlandish. The presentation of the action of the play was therefore characterized by a visual design that was iconographic and symbolic without being confined to the illusionistic. This was further incorporated into the sound design, which featured music types ranging from the "traditional Shakespeare" for the Induction, to the "Italian restaurant" and "mob hits" for much of the rest (including live singers on That's Amore and Love and Marriage), with "Western" music for the "taming" scenes (such as the themes from Rawhide and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly).

In order to provide the play with some closure that is lacking due to the disappearance of Sly,  the actor portraying the Players' stage manager appeared at the end to signal a "blackout."  

Preview from the student newspaper
Review from the student newspaper

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Copyright 2003 by Ken McCoy.