The poster of Taming of the Shrew. Photo courtesy of the Sewanee Theatre Department.
By Vanessa Moss
Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew will open at the Tennessee Williams Center on March 7, hosting a cast of 14 students and one interim professor and alumni, Raymond McAnally. With costumes designed by Danielle Silfies (C’19), lighting by Liam Corley (C’20), and the set by Chyna Bradford (C’17), the final production will be entirely student-built, guided by director Pete Smith. This rendition will be Smith’s fifth time producing Taming of the Shrew, making him closely familiar with the strengths and challenges of the show.
“One major issue as to whether we could mount a successful production or not was having someone who has the maturity you need for [Petruchio],” Smith explains.
Thankfully, the theater department has welcomed Raymond McAnally into their fold this semester, bringing both maturity and years of experience in physical comedy to the production. Experience which will be invaluable as Smith emphasizes the physicality and humor of the show, heightening them to create “a very farcical type of production.”
Karissa Wheeler (C’19) is playing Petruchio’s better half and lead role, Katherine. After leading in productions such as Cabaret and The Crucible, Wheeler has found herself again playing a powerful woman dealing with circumstance: “You come to every part and want to bring truth to it, and truth to her circumstance… Paper value? She’s just a shrew. Finding her reasons for behaving the way she does is the important part.”
Taming’s finale is highly contended, closing with what is often seen as a misogynistic message: women must submit to their husbands. Smith disagrees with that interpretation, seeing instead that this show “is about marriage more than anything else. It’s about how people have to, in any marriage, compromise.”
The operative word for the play, Smith explains, is duty. “To understand what the role of a man is in a marriage and the role of a woman is in a marriage, and you take it out of the Elizabethan context, it’s really just about partners compromising. It’s give and take.”
Smith goes on to joke that the dynamic of Petruchio and Katherine is just “Macbeth and Lady Macbeth on a bad day.” He wonders if, in the imaginary sequel to Taming, Petruchio and Kate will be married with 14 children, or if they’ll be landed in divorce court, but leaves the choice up to Wheeler, saying: “I want Karissa to decide.”
Wheeler agrees, and is working to play Katherine with that in mind. “Marriage is a compromise and it brings the possibility of true love and long-lasting happiness.” Or at least, she thinks. Being unmarried, her perspective is drawn mostly from the accounts of Smith and McAnally in rehearsal.
Marriage notwithstanding, Wheeler sees as clear as Smith that “Petruchio is just as much a shrew as Katherine, and by the end of the play, they both are tamed.”