When the Rev. Kevin Connell decided to take a position as principal at Gonzaga Preparatory School in 2006, he was excited about the job. He also knew that returning to Spokane would give him a chance to pursue another project he had in mind for some time.
During the 10 years Connell had spent working at Jesuit schools in Portland, he performed in outdoor Shakespearean productions there, and at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise. This weekend he’s bringing outdoor Shakespeare to Spokane.
“I just think the climate is perfect for outdoor theater in Spokane; you know you will not get rained on,” Connell said.
His cast consists of Gonzaga University students from the Way Off Broadway Theater Group. The classic they are performing is “Taming of the Shrew.”
“I called up students who are talented and creative, students I already knew,” Connell said. “Usually the Way Off Broadway group does something much more modern and cutting edge, and they perform at the Empyrean Coffee House.”
The group has been rehearsing on site at Gonzaga Prep, where the cast wrapped up the last details under storm clouds last week.
Michael Heye, 22, a recent business graduate from GU, plays Petruchio, who ends up marrying the shrew, Katherine.
“This is my first Shakespeare experience,” said Heye, who has acted throughout high school and college. “We are trying to do this a little different, where Petruchio is someone who finds his match in Kate – he’s not just someone who’s trying to break her.”
Millie Duchow, 20, a senior at GU, plays Katherine.
“I think Kate is a very interesting character,” Duchow said. “She can come across as angry and bitchy, but we are trying to add another dimension to her.”
Katherine’s much-admired and wildly popular younger sister Bianca is played by Brigid Carey. Bianca and Katherine’s dad Baptista refuses to let his younger daughter marry until his oldest daughter – the independent and rebellious Katherine – has been married off. Much trickery and Shakespearean confusion follow before the shrew is tamed and married to Petruchio.
“All the suitors want the other sister,” said Duchow. “It’s not easy being Katherine. I look at her more as someone who’s being labeled as a shrew and that’s why she acts like one.”
Connell plays Baptista in this production.
“Petruchio loves Katherine; he is not abusing her or dominating her. They fall in love at first sight,” Connell said. “This is a play about why and how they can they be in love and stay strong-willed, independent people at the same time.”
Over the years, Connell has done 40 productions of 23 Shakespeare plays.
“There are 37 Shakespeare plays altogether,” Connell said. “I’ve done ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ eight times. My favorite is ‘Macbeth.’ I did that in Portland just a few years ago.”
Connell said there is no need for Shakespeare virgins to be afraid they won’t get it. “This is a very accessible play, and we work hard to make sure the acting tells the story,” he said.
He hopes to do more Shakespeare productions and perhaps include some fundraising that can support bigger shows in the future.
“This is on a low, low budget, but the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise started like this,” Connell said. “We are trying a less ambitious beginning just to show people what we can do.”