Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taming of the Shrew - Shrew, Do Not Make Denial

as I was saying...

If you plowed all the way through my last ("Petruchio the Mild"), you noticed I never did answer John's inquiry abut how recent productions handle Kate after "Petruchio, lying, tells the others that Kate has agreed to marry him." Among the regrets I have after having spent about 500 nights in the theatre is how quickly a live performance begins to dissolve in memory as the curtain falls. I may remember that a production was powerful (Olivier's Titus) or godawful (Colorado State's Comedy of Errors) but I am hard pressed to recall specific evidence.

I have seen, I think, four productions of Shrew on stage. 1) Ashland, Oregon, 1967, when I led a band of "Northwest Gifted Children" camping, play going and playing Botticelli, and what I remember most vividly is that before a backstage tour, two ladies' clubs laughed at my kids when we were told the "gifted children" should gather in one corner. 2) Boulder, Colorado, maybe 1985, directed by Tom Marcus (Google him; a significant director at Williamsburg and Salt Lake), an old college classmate of mine, and I remember especially the colors, a 19th-century Sly in forest green and brown, then the play they fantasize for him: pastel Padua, then bold primaries for Petruchio. 3) The RSC in an armory in San Francisco, 2000, with Sly set in front of a TV set ("Is it not a comonty?") then with a "TV set" proscenium arch the play plays out, unmemorably, I remember – do you recall, Randall? 4) Then CalShakes, Orinda, California, 2000, a restorative antidote to the flat RSC – but I can't remember any detail at all.

Ah, but right upstairs I have a shelf full of videos. It may not be an attic full of actors, but a video is the same every time I watch it. This time I only watched the opening three scenes of each.

Sam Taylor, director (1929). Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Bianca is a brunette, because Pickford is famously blond. No Christopher Sly. It opens with a Hortensio-Bianca kiss (running time is 68 minutes so Lucentio is cut). Kate trashes much of the mansion before we even see her. She uses a bullwhip on Bianca. Petruchio notes "she is a lusty wench," and duels her with his own bull whip. Kate' response is silence. Duh. It is a silent movie. Just kidding. My tape has been dubbed. II.i.279 ("Never make denial") is missing so the scene goes straight to "I'll see him hanged on Sunday first!" Kate bites Petruchio, he kisses her, she is breathless. Exit Petruchio, so the lines go back to "Call you me daughter?" and Kate horsewhips Baptista for making the match without her knowledge. This Kate is neither tamed nor astonished. Instead she needs Clyde Beatty for a tutor (sorry for an ancient reference: Beatty was a famous lion tamer with Barnum and Bailey circus).

Franco Zeffirelli, director (1966). Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor is a buxom (!) brunette so Bianca is a ringletted blond. No Christopher Sly. Starts with Lucentio (Michael York) entering a very Tuscan Padua at Carnival time. Love at first sight (he utters "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day"). Horatio is a Restoration fop and Gremio is senex (so there is a commedia dell'arte beginning). Taylor trashes the scenery, smashes stuff, horse whips Bianca. The Petruchio-Kate scene ends in a long (!) chase, up the stairs, along the halls into the granary, finally along the roof ridge until they both fall through into a large bin of sheep fleece. He falls on top of her. Ho, ho, ho. Kate is exhausted by the chase. At II.i.279, "Do not make denial," she is so tired, she just limps, exhausted, but she smiles, but she spits out "I'll see thee hanged on Sunday first," then, alone, she repeats "I'll see thee hanged," softened a little as she thinks about it, maybe, second thoughts, a little smile. Not tamed nor astonished, but, I think, seduced.

Bill Ball, director (1976). This is an American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, production made for TV. Marc Singer and Fredi Olster. Hal Holbrook opens with a lecture on commedia dell'arte. No Christopher Sly. The play starts with the company, in commedia masks and white clown suits, filing on stage before a citizen audience (when first I saw this on TV they disembarked from a ship, climbing down cargo nets). The production is hugely stylized, including speaking the dialogue. Bianca has long blond hair, while Katherina's hair is light brown. Hortensio looks like Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Mark Singer wears a leather jerkin over his bare chest. As he prepares for his first meeting with Katherina, he removes the jerkin, and Kate, behind him, ogles his bod lustfully. The "interview" is very physical, with Petruchio flipping Kate around, over his shoulder, etc. At one point he stamps on her foot, which gives a new twist to "Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?" so his denial, "O stand'rous world," is a flat-out lie. At II.i.279 ("Never make denial"), Kate is just speechless, amazed at the manhandling, before she gets her breath back for "I'll see thee hang'd on Sunday first."

Jonathan Miller, director (1981). BBC. John Cleese and Sarah Badel. Bianca's hair is light brown, while Kate is a mature brunette. Though BBC pledged to archive all of Shakespeare, Christopher Sly is cut out. BBC's other pledge, "no interpretation ," which is, of course, a kind of interpretation, is abandoned here with a remarkable, unconventional portrayal of Petruchio by John Cleese, who is thoughtful, circumspect, solemn. His opening stroll through the crowded marketplace is careful observation by a stranger. Before his first meeting with Katherina, his constructs his contradiction strategy, thinking it through extempore. The repartee is perfect rational discourse: listen, think, respond. He does take Kate by the wrist after she strikes him (hard). After II.i.279, Kate smolders, then, as Randall notes, takes her anger out on Baptista. When Petruchio asserts "If she be curst, it is for policy," Kate bites her lip. Then, as though to demonstrate she has heard his cue, "I'll see thee hanged on Sunday." But as Petruchio tells Hortensio and Gremio about the "love" which has transpired, Kate is shocked and speechless. Baptista is ecstatic to be rid of her. I think astonished would be my take on this. (Has anyone else seen this? What is your take on Cleese's Petruchio?)

John Allison, Director (1982). Bard Productions. All the Bard shows are uneven. Franklyn Seales and Karen Austin. Bianca is blond, a big pile of curls and my note says "buns," and Katherina has lots of light brown curls. No Christopher Sly. Opens again in a market place and, as Lucentio is telling Tranio of his plan for "moral discipline" in Padua, he is greeted by a florid hooker (I thought, if this is Bianca, we're in trouble). Kate greets Petruchio skeptically, but she seems turned on as she hits him with her fists. Very physical. Petruchio's lines are irrational, and Kate responds by pounding and hitting and biting. In fact, they exchange bite for bite. "I'll tame you" is a threat. At the end of what is an extended fight, Kate is supine and Petruchio is breathless. "Never make denial" is cut, so Kate's response is "I'll see then hang'd on Sunday." She is justifiably furious. Thus, she is neither tamed nor astonished. Nor silent.

Therefore, John, I don't think any of them get it "right." The play I read is much more subtle than these. I do think, as Randall has just noted in "Kate Speaks," that Kate's real anger is directed toward her father who has "sold" her to a stranger without any consultation. If so this is consistent with Act I, when she has bitterly complained about Baptista's preference for his younger daughter and the humiliations she has suffered. Petruchio, witty or male chauvinist or abusive or misogynistic or hot stuff, is still just the latest of Baptista's humiliations.

Gilbert, bleary eyed.

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