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Mutual Taming 

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hat if Shakespeare had called it The Schooling of the Bitch? He'd sell more tickets, but his comedy would be even less understood. The Taming of the Shrew isn't just about getting a lady loudmouth to pipe down.


Anne Selcoe, who plays shrewish Katherina in the upcoming production at SFCC (March 2-11), sees eye to eye with her director, Bill Marlowe, and her co-star, John Oswald, who plays Petruchio.


"The three of us agreed from the beginning," she says, "that this is about two people being transformed." Not just one: It's not only about Petruchio telling Kate how to be less bitchy. This is a comedy about two people forging a distinctive marriage.


But then Shrew is performed hundreds of times worldwide every year. What makes this show at the Falls any different?





Green Show Modernized & r & Marlowe will precede his Shrew with a 15-minute green show: acrobats, jugglers, sword fights, a fan battle set to music, comic bits borrowed from commedia dell'arte.


The green show's emcee will recite the standard pre-show warning, but with an Elizabethan twist: "Consider well how you can serve your neighbor / By stifling up your cherished rude device / That sings unbidden and defeats our labor."


Then he'll hold up a cell phone.





Different Script & r & The most reliable text of The Taming of the Shrew didn't appear until 30 years after the play was first performed. It presents a frame story -- which Shakespeare abandons partway through, anyway, so that it's seldom performed. But Marlowe has "inserted some bits from the 1594 text" and completed the frame story, he says. "No one is sure whether Shakespeare or someone else wrote it."


Either way, the play outside the play features a chap named Christopher Sly, who doesn't live up to his name. Not being clever, he's found drunk in a ditch, then spoofed into thinking that he has awakened as a wealthy lord with a beautiful wife and a troupe of actors willing to entertain him. (Guess which play they perform.) The point is for the audience to watch Christopher Sly watch the characters in the fictional world of Shrew watch how Petruchio transforms Kate. Got all that?


Sly's confused, too. "Because he's never seen a play before, he misinterprets the play. He shouts out at the end, 'Now I know how to tame a shrew.'" But he doesn't, and neither do we, if we trust him.


Sly's compelled to play a role he doesn't understand -- sort of like how an intelligent, unmarried woman who wanted to find a mate might have to play a docile role of the sort she didn't like or understand at all. Sort of like Kate.





Experienced Actors & r & Selcoe has experience with the real shrew of the piece: Kate's younger sister Bianca, whom all the men pursue only to discover that she's the biggest nag in all of Padua.


"I played Bianca twice before, when I was 20 and when I was 30," Selcoe says, "so to play Kate when I'm 45 is different, especially because I'm married now." For one thing, Kate seems stuck in a self-focused world: "Kate uses the word 'I' so much -- I was amazed when I started studying the text. But marriage can't be about what just one person wants."


Oswald, 48, who's also this production's dramaturg (a kind of academic script doctor) has a doctorate in Theater Arts from the University of Minnesota. He's got Shakespearean chops, having spent five seasons acting at the Utah Shakespearean Festival, two of them as an associate artist. He's appeared in four productions at Interplayers and ARt.





Games Elizabethan People Play & r & For Oswald, Petruchio "doesn't feel he has to conform to social norms at all. He could if he wanted to, but it's not worth the trouble -- these people are all candy-ass poseurs. He has a country estate, he has the hawks and the hounds -- he's in charge."


As Petruchio, says Oswald, "I don't care if I make an ass of myself in the midst of a society that trusts too much in appearances, where men put on ridiculous disguises to woo women."


At first Petruchio is after Kate's dowry -- but then there's an immediate physical attraction, and so the tamer sets out on a program of modeling for Katherina what it's like to be subjected to shrewish behavior -- and what it's like when people are actually nice to one another. They end up playing a private game that no one else understands. They end up falling in love.





Final Speech Torqued & r & At the end of Kate's famous final speech, when she publicly pledges obedience to her husband and actually offers to place her hand beneath his feet (!), Oswald will interrupt her gesture with one of his own that's in the text -- and another that's not -- in order to demonstrate their mutual commitment.


By the end of Shakespeare's comedy, Kate is no longer a woman who's been given by one man to another: "She doesn't need her father anymore," as Selcoe notes. With Petruchio's help, she'll define herself.


In The Taming of the Shrew, says Selcoe, "It's not so much that [Shakespeare] is commenting on how women are treated, but on how we treat each other."


By transforming herself, the shrew teaches the rest of us a worthwhile lesson. Turns out she's not such a bitch after all.





The Taming of the Shrew probes gender relations on March 2-4 and March 8-11 at 7:30 pm, with Sunday matinees on March 5 and March 12 at 2 pm. Green show 15 minutes before curtain. Tickets: $6; $3, students, seniors and military; $1 and a can of food, March 5 only. SFCC, Spartan Theatre, Bldg. 5, 3410 W. Fort George Wright Dr. Call 533-4440.

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