Published in Gay and Lesbian Times November 21, 2002
Think about it. There are lots of anti-female words in our vernacular vocabulary that have no male counterpart. Consider: misogynist, pussy-whipped, crone. Or shrew. Shakespeare’s 1593 battle of the sexes, “The Taming of the Shrew,” has long been problematic for women.
A gold-digging macho comes from Verona to Padua to “wive it weathily,” and he vows (with the promise of a substantial dowry) to ‘tame’ the harridan Katharina, the elder sister who must be wed before her sweet, gentle younger sister, Bianca, can marry. In the process, he starves and abuses, belittles and confuses Kate, until she submits completely and becomes a docile, loving, compliant bride.
It’s tricky for our times. And as a wife and mother, director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, artistic associate at the San Diego Rep, just couldn’t see anything funny about the so-called comedy. In 2000, she experimented with a gender-reversed production of “Shrew” at San Diego’s first DURGA Women’s Performance Festival. Eveoke Dance Theatre’s equally feminist artistic director, Gina Angelique, was enthralled, and offered to produce an extended run.
So, here it is… gender-bending of a whole new sort, with the men playing the women’s roles — as men — and the women playing the male roles, as women. And all without changing a word of the text (though it’s trimmed down to 2 1/2 hours including three dance interludes).
This Katherine is a man (Tim Wild) — an angry, aggressive, martial-artist who brawls with his brother, pretty-boy Bianca (David Stinnett). Petruchio is an Amazon of a woman (Liv Kellgren) — brash, swaggering, lewd, crude and conniving — and hell-bent on mastering her mate. All Bianca’s suitors — Lucentio, Hortensio, Gremio — are lascivious, over-sexed women, flaunting their wares in lusty illustration of Shakespeare’s illustrious lines. Baptista, the father of the marriageable sisters, becomes a pragmatic mother (Patricia Elmore Costa). Just to shake things up a bit more, Petruchio’s long-suffering servant Grumio is played in high drag (and the grace of a gazelle) by Don Loper. Oh yes, and then are the dancers (Elizabeth Marks and Anthony Rodriguez) dubbed Girl Gender and Boy Gender, who act out the phases of male-female relationship — from total unabashed equality as children, to self-conscious flirtation and sexuality as adolescents, to the final Epilogue image of the man trapped under a wedding veil.
There’s a lot of stamping and leaping, running and jumping, dancing and shouting; it’s just too loud and shrill — both literally and philosophically. Sonnenberg’s vision makes us take a long, hard look at the play, and at our societal expectations. Somehow, though, despite all the reconfigurations, the woman still comes across as a shrew, only now you’d more likely call her a ball-buster. She does triumph, but a powerful woman who tones down a braggadocio is never applauded quite as much as a man who subdues an uppity, aggressive wife. Women just can’t win!
Many of the performances are engaging. Kellgren and Wild are a well-matched pair (made more amusing in that she towers over him and can lift him up seemingly effortlessly). Costa is particularly convincing as Baptista and as the young suitors, Lucentio and Hortensio, Jennifer Eve Kraus (better at the lower end of her pitch range) and Jo Anne Glover are endearing and adorable. The dancers are a delight, but their segments do go on; Angelique’s choreography for the first section is particularly playful. Her costume designs fall somewhere between lingerie and uniforms, pale pink slip-like shifts that could be a raggy waitress version of Victoria’s Secret. It’s the Bard’s bawd that works best here — making a salacious (if not wholly satisfying) switch from machismo to feminisma.
“The Taming of the Shrew” runs through December 1 at Sushi Performance and Visual Art; 619-238-1153.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.