Shrew You (Little Shakespeare Festival, online)

This female-led version of The Taming of the Shrew is brought to the Little Shakespeare Festival at Frigid New York by Hamlet Isn’t Dead.

Shrew You! attempts to place a different perspective on what is one of Shakespeare’s most problematic works in terms of sexism and misogyny.

Brought to life without the confusing prologue, it is delivered by four actors who mix up original and modern text with additional characters played by Muppet-like puppets.

Katherine (a strong turn from Afton Paige Welch) and Bianca (Azumi Tsuzui, who also plays a verbose Hortensio) are sisters in Padua; the former is marked as a shrew but is simply lively, opinionated, and something of a modern woman.

Not very appealing to a society led by chauvanistic men, and so she remains unwed, while her meek and submissive sister Bianca has suitors knowing at her door. As Katherine (or Kate) is the elder, it wouldn’t do for Bianca to marry first, and so we meet the siblings at stalemate.

Enter Petruchio (a swaggering Jillian Cicalese), who likes a challenge, and seeks to win the Kate he finds as a match for his brash bravado. But can we really root for these two in a modern setting?

Writer David Andrews Laws finds the humour in the tale, with director Sophia Laws drawing out the nuances of master/servant, father/daughter and husband/wife relationships.

Promotional image for Shrew You!

In Hamlet Isn’t Dead’s interpretation, both Kate and Petruchio are given some slack while the minor characters (notably Olivia Ridpath’s laddish Lucencio) add amusement and energy to the piece.

With trunk, guitar, curtain and paper bits strewn on the stage, the setting could be anywhere, but comes alive whenever Cicalese and Welch have their battles.

A sequence with ever sillier weapons (have you ever seen Petruchio court Kate with a saucepan and water pistol before?) draws out the most repulsive of lines.

My mind returns to a version of Shrew I saw several years ago where all the male parts were taken by women and the female parts by men. This play is one that really responds to a feminist perspective.

Tsuzwi’s Hortense becomes a little more interesting than usual within Shrew You!, as character and actor both experience conflict with a plot which reduced the two sisters to simple possessions and chattels for their men.

Shrew You! isn’t perfect, with some opportunities to tackle Shakespeare’s outmoded values missed. I would also have been interested in seeing a production where a woman writer tackles an adaptation of this play.

That said, I found this version provoked questions and offered a new insight into what can only be deacribed these days as a ‘problem comedy’.


What do you think?

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