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Review of Mountain Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

By Edited Jan 31, 2014 0 0

Another interpretation of Shakespeare's taming of the Shrew has arrived in Pine Mountain Club, CA for the annual Mountain Shakespeare Festival. Bravely enacted by local actors from the surrounding mountain communities of Lebec, Frazier Park, Pinon Pines, Lake of the Woods, Cuddy Valley and Lockwood Valley, California, the play runs through the month of July 2010. To purchase tickets in advance, you may visit Mountainshakes.com. You may also view the summer schedule there, link to overnight accommodations and purchase package deals. The mountains of Southern California are very pleasant in the summer. Located at 6,000 feet above sea level, the temperature is usually five to ten degrees cooler than in neighboring cities of Los Angeles or Bakersfield, California.

To reach Pine Mountain Club, take Interstate 5 North from Los Angeles or South from Bakersfield and exit at the Frazier Park exit. From there drive 12 miles on Frazier Mountain Park Road. At the flashing red stop light, continue straight. Just past Lake of the Woods take a slight right, to follow signs uphill toward Pine Mountain Club. Continue 5.5 miles on Cerro Noroeste Highway to enter Pine Mountain Club. The plays are being performed in the village center in the gazebo located near La Lena restaurant and the Montana Joey clothing store. Evening performances at a 8pm and alternate with showings of the comedy "The Odd Couple."

Even Shakespeare's time the play was controversial for its misogynist message. "Taming" referred to the transformation of Katrina, the tractable obnoxious older daughter of Baptisa Minola into a loving obedient wife. In the beginning of the play she is considered so awful, so sharp tongued, that no man would want her. She is contrasted to her sweet and demure pretty younger sister Bianca. She is shown as defiant to her father, and bullying to her younger sister. In many modern adaptations, directors have sought to ascribe meaning to Katarina's anger. In the Heath Ledger movie, "Ten things I hate about you," the older sister is represented as a young feminist, contrasted to her younger sister who is a silly fashion plate of a teenage girl. Kate in that interpretation is outspoken and smart, and just not interested in boys. We find out later in the movie about an experience she had that makes her especially cautious.

I'm not a big fan of chick flicks or teen dramas, but I will say this for the Heath Ledger adaptation, the "wooing" of the Shrew is done in a much more subtle fashion. One can see how the characters come to care for each other despite passionate bickering. The original Shakespeare seems to offer little explanation for why the older daughter is frankly, so angry and difficult. To make the play funny I think the actress could be a parody of a woman. Katarina says at one point, "Do you mean to make a puppet of me?" Making her so awful that even modern audiences would find her distasteful seems funnier than making her merely outspoken.

According to Wikipedia, even in Shakespeare's time some people were uncomfortable with the heavy handed tactics employed to "tame" the shrew. He denies her food and sleep. To dilute the discomfort Shakespeare wrote a "framing" device around the play, showing it to be a dream, or a play within a play. If it IS a dream, of course the dreamer is less responsible for the feelings shown therein. All sorts of odd things happen in dreams. But in addition there was apparently an alternate ending where the wife of the dreamer wakes him up and beats him, thus enabling women to win (according to Wikipedia) or perhaps merely to show that forward women are irritating.

In the 1970's network sitcom "Soap" where Billy Crystal got his start, there was an adaptation of the Shrew sewn into the many ongoing plots. It was much more hilarious than the stage play I saw because more was made of the completely crazy over the top devices of Petruchio to "tame" his wife. It's not just about denying her food, he slaps the sandwich out her hand as it is not good enough for her! And maintains a completely slapstick manner of snatching things away from her. I think the more over the top the husband character acts in his exultations of his new wife, Katarina, the more funny it is. The more serious the actors play the scene, the more creepy and disturbing the farce becomes.

After all, you have to start worrying about Katarina being physically abused from the sleep deprivation. And in the adaptation I watched last night, the "new dress" scene was positively sad. In its essence, Petruchio has ordered a new cap and gown for Katarina made of the finest fabric, cut in the latest fashion. But in accordance with his ruse, he proclaims it as not good enough for her, and berates the delivery man who has brought over the dress. The delivery man in turn defends himself by saying he followed the order exactly as requested. In an aside it is made clear that Petruchio is going to pay the tailor, but in front of his wife he grabs and shreds the cap and abuses the dress.

Once again, it could have been a funny scene, I think it was written to be comedic. One might imagine Katarina as being excited and pleased about having a husband who knew so much about fashion, and Petruchio acting slapstick. However, in the version I saw, Katarina sat on the floor in stunned silence, looking as though she were about to cry, as her husband deemed the dress not fine enough for her. IT was as if they played the scene totally straight. And we in the audience fear Katarina is going to be denied ordinary clothing in her marriage. Visions of battered wives began to come up in my head.

In the last scene Petruchio gets a chance to show off before the company how successfully he has tamed his wife. In a scary, very long monologue Katarina extols the virtue of being an obedient wife. Is she being serious, sarcastic or ironic? The program asked us to decide for ourselves. You could have heard a pin drop at Stacy Havener spoke her impassioned lines. She sounded serious. Yipes.
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