When I heard that Quill was doing an all-female Taming, I felt like this was the rare production of this text that I could handle seeing. I’m not a fan of the script. It’s not just the abuse that I don’t like (although there’s that). I also don’t think that the Bianca suitor plot is funny. I loathe Petruchio’s household. But I was curious, so we went to see it.
I didn’t see Pigeon Creek’s Taming, but I appreciated what director Kat Hermes had to say about it: “People keep asking me how I’m ‘solving’ the ending. I’m not. I refuse to fix this script.” Quill’s production took this angle as well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a production that played that choice with absolute commitment.
The performances, across the board, were solid. Everyone clearly knew what they were saying, they were comfortable speaking Shakespeare, and their physical work was great. Everyone was easy to hear and connect with. The costuming helped tell the story, especially Katerina’s costumes. Her first dress/pants thing looked like it could be a Halloween demon with minimal modification (and I mean that in the best possible way). Petruchio’s outfit for the wedding included jeans that had a glittery “KISS ME KATE” across the rear.
The production didn’t shy away from the violence and pain in this play. Petruchio absolutely crushed Kate with no remorse, no attempt at connection with her, no bigger picture than his need to marry her for her money and to subdue her as if she were a horse he had purchased. The way Katerina said “But now I see our lances are but straws, / Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare, / That seeming to be most which we indeed least are,” was one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever seen on stage. I’ve never heard “our lances are but straws” jump out of the text before, but it stunned my ear when she said it.
The play closed with the image of Katerina, her white dress glowing blue in near-darkness, surrounded by the other women in the cast, all singing “I’m Just a Girl.” They had opened the show with a medley of girl power songs, including that one, but where it sounded aggressive at the beginning of the show, it felt broken at the end.
Even though I know that they are actors and they are just acting, I felt weirdly uncomfortable when Petruchio and Katerina entered smiling and hand-in-hand for the curtain call. I didn’t want to see them together, even when the play was over!
My daughter, who is six, told me she didn’t like the show. I thought it was because she was tired, or didn’t really follow it. But she said, “I hated it because of all those lies they made her say at the end.” So…she got it, and she hated exactly what she should hate about it.
My son, nearly nine, had a more nuanced experience of it. Like me, he appreciated the quality of the acting and storytelling, and strongly objected to the actual events of the play. In his theater journal, he wrote, “The play is about hate and force. The worst character is Petruchio because he is mean to women…a lot.”
This was a powerful production. If it’s the last Taming I see for a decade, that would be fine with me.