The 18-year-old relationship between the British International Theatre Program and USF, created to connect renowned British artists with gifted USF students, has produced another performance for the University’s enjoyment. On Wednesday, the College of Visual and Performing Arts will unveil this semester’s production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
A team of internationally acclaimed luminaries, including director Tim Luscombe, vocal technique coach Susan Bovell, physical comedy specialist John Nicholson and set designer Michael Holt, polished the student performers of USF’s Theatre Department to a radiance that reflects significant theatrical talent.
An evening of iambic pentameter, a visit to the marshlands of the American South, praiseworthy stage performances and a serious role reversal for a shrew are complemented with a dramatic twist in the final scene that will fascinate the audience.
Director’s cut: Tim Luscombe, a director and a playwright of international caliber, does a remarkable job of steering a talented group of USF students through a show that deserves the adjective “must-watch.” The chemistry he formulated among the entire team manifested not only during the performance, but also off-stage.
“I intend to work in London, and I’ll fight tooth and nail to work with Tim again,” said Claudia Rosales, a junior theatre major who played Josephina and half of Biondello. “He has been great in building community among all of us. He wants us to play the play.”
“I am thrilled with the cast and crew. It was hugely challenging, but also a great success,” Luscombe said. “There are a lot of big talents here. It’s certainly a strong department.”
The Everglades: Vivid visual and aural effects teleported the audience to a swamp in the backwoods of Florida. The background embodies a strong spirit of the South, with moss-laden branches canopying a set of the long, dark green and blue wooden planks beneath. An on-stage pool mimics marshland and is only revealed to the audience when Petruchio pushes Katherine into it in jest.
“We wanted to be American, but the set couldn’t have been downtown Tampa or Chicago. The play is set way back in time,” Holt said. “I concentrate on verticals to trap the characters on stage. It enhances the closed and rather remote community setting. The characters of Tranio and Vincentio come to Padua as more sophisticated than the rather boorish characters living there.”
The Southern flavor is augmented by the accents the performers put on. For instance, the character of Gremio, a foolish elderly suitor of Bianca played by theatre major Nathan Juliano, has an arresting presence on stage. “When I read my lines, I instantly thought of this person who goes to my church in Virginia. He is a complete mountain man,” he said, justifying his character’s tone.
Wo(men): The fact that the two of the main male characters – Baptista and Petruchio – are played by female performers is one of the most striking aspects of the play. Women playing men inverts the traditional casting of Shakespearean plays.
Nichole Jordan, a senior theater major who played Baptista, acknowledged this as a strong device to communicate the central message to the audience. “When we first saw the cast list, we started figuring out why he (Luscombe) cast the two main men roles as females,” said Jordan. “I think it shows the characteristic role from a female perspective.”
The Shrew: The central character is that of Katherine the shrew, and Lynn Moore, a senior in theatre performance, delivers a performance that is beyond mesmerizing. She portrayed the radical changes in Katherine’s personality before and after her marriage. The maturation of the belittling, foul-tempered shrew of Padua into the obedient, complying wife of Petruchio is, in essence, the taming.
“Every performance, every rehearsal period, every day, I find a little bit more about Katherine. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully find her,” said Moore of playing one of the most difficult and deep characters created by Shakespeare. “Katherine seems to be this sane person in a crazy world. It was very hard for us to find the source of her anger. There was always the aspect of abuse that made her this dark secret that everybody was against.”
Luscombe’s abuse factor subtly depicts the relationship between Petruchio and Katherine. Both characters are headstrong, powerful and controlling of their surroundings, and share a commonality which both can relate to. This link may be the abuse to which they were subjected in their respective pasts and the force that forged them both into these dominating, stone-hearted individuals.
New Meets Old: Although the show may be set in 1950s, Luscombe juxtaposes it with modern themes. Without losing the main message, he incorporates the new in the old.
“The majority of females in the show undercut the aspect of male brutality. The audience can be a little more understanding about the subject matter,” Meagan Lamasney, student assistant director for the show, said.
Luscombe makes the character of Petruchio more acidic than in the original. Petruchio doesn’t stop at starving Katherine, denying her clothes and scorning her. The torture has a contemporary face, taking the audience by surprise when Petruchio resorts to using a chainsaw as well as an electric collar around Katherine’s thigh. “He (Luscombe) made Petruchio harsher and more intimidating so that today’s audience can more vividly relate to the show.”
The Twist: Besides being a theatrical treat in all aspects, the show entails a startling twist in the climax that leaves the audience bedazzled. Die-hard Shakespeare fans may consider it almost sinful to change, add or delete even the smallest part of a play, especially the dramatic end.
“Tim specifically told us to put aside the Shakespearean reverence that one automatically wants to associate with such plays, and tell the story as naturally as possible,” said Robert Raddle, a junior in theatre performance.
The evolution of Katherine from a strong female personality to a subservient subordinate goes on to something so captivating that the audience is taken by surprise as the lights dim.
The Taming of the Shrew will play in Theatre 1 Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with an additional performance at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $6 for USF students and seniors, and $12 for adults.