Redefining the ‘Shrew’

Director Tim Luscombe found a problem in performing William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at USF. Luscombe, a visiting professor from the British International Theatre Program, said the play is impossible to perform straight in the post-women’s liberation era.

The play is about two sisters whose father has declared that Bianca, the younger, cannot marry until her sister Katherine has. The problem is that Katherine is a shrew. Luscombe said the play suggests that women who have been unruly should be tamed and placed in a position of submission. Because of this, the production needed a new point of view.

“My view is to ask the question, ‘Why is she a shrew? Why is she behaving like this?'” Luscombe said. “It was written obviously 500 years ago, before Freud and Jung, so Shakespeare didn’t give us any particular answers to that.”

Luscombe said he believed Katherine must have been sexually abused to be so shrewish and violent. Even with his in-depth evaluation of the characters, however, the words have not been changed. Other things have been altered to make the play more accessible to and enjoyable for a 21st century audience.

“Very few do any Shakespeare play in its entirety unless it is like the Company at the Globe or RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) in Stratford,” said cast member Claudia Rosales, a junior theater performance major. “Most plays done – especially in the States – are cut in some way, usually to project a theme.”

For instance, the prologue has been cut for time and flow purposes. Those scenes convey the sense of a play within a play.

“Textually, it doesn’t seem to make sense with the rest of the show because they introduce it, and even if they would have come back to it, we would totally have kept it,” said Nicholas Carter, a junior majoring in theater performance, who plays Curtis, the servant of Katherine’s suitor.

The setting has been changed from the Italian Renaissance to the 1950s in the American South. Luscombe said he originally thought of late 19th century China. However, Marc Powers, director of the School of Theatre and Dance, told him it would be too complicated a stretch.

“In the end I think the students can identify with the ’50s – it’s not too long ago and research is fairly easy to do for it,” Luscombe said.

Another major difference is that two of the male leads are played by women: Petruchio, played by Dahlia Legault, and Baptista, played by Nicole Jordan, both juniors majoring in theater performance. Luscombe said he didn’t cast them because they were women, he casted them because he believed they were the best people to play the characters.

“It’s been quite an adventure,” Legault said. “At first I was really, really terrified about it, but I took it slow. I hope it’s turned out well.”

The performance runs Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 27-March 1 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 24 and March 2 at 3 p.m., in Theatre I. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $6 for students and seniors, and may be obtained through the CVPA Box Office, under “more events.”