If you studied William Shakespeare in school, chances are “To be, or not to be” wasn’t the only question you had to worry about. Getting through the text might have even required the use of a side-by-side translation of the Bard’s work into modern English.
If nothing else, there was always SparkNotes to help you get by.
When “The Taming of the Shrew” opens Friday at Spokane Civic Theatre, director David Baker, who is also handling scenic and lighting design, hopes to rid the material of its stigma of being dull and make it more theatergoer-friendly.
“It tends to be reserved for academia, which is really too bad,” he said. “If you approach Shakespeare just as you would any other play and not be too afraid of it and make the funny things funny and the fast-paced scenes fast-paced, it’s very approachable and not overly wordy at all.”
Likewise, Baker approached the task of casting “The Taming of the Shrew” like he does any other production, looking for energy, a strong voice and stage presence.
“There’s not a special treatment that I try to give Shakespeare,” he said. “Some people say that you need to and I think that’s hogwash.”
“The Taming of the Shrew” is one of Shakespeare’s more popular comedies, following the story of Katherina (Dana Sammond), the titular shrew, a woman deemed unfit for marriage because of her – gasp – assertiveness.
This poses a problem to the many men hoping to marry Katherina’s younger sister, Bianca (Skyler Moeder), as the pair’s father Baptista (Preston Loomer) has decided that Bianca is not to be married until Katherina is.
This sets Bianca’s suitors on a quest to find a suitable match for Katherina so they can fight for Bianca.
One of the suitors recruits Petruchio (Seneca Smith), who goes about “taming the shrew” using a variety of unorthodox methods.
With Katherina taken care of, suitors like Hortensio (Bryan Durbin), Gremio (Matt Cordoza) and Lucentio (Justin McNiff) are free to compete for Bianca’s affections, themselves using interesting techniques to make a good impression.
The cast also features Lauralynn “LuLu” Stafford (Grumio), Michael Barfield (Tranio), Dennis Pham (Biondello), Andre’ Cossette (Vincentio), Eliot Drushella (a merchant), Tricia Petrinovich (widow), Blake King-Krueger (tailor/officer) and Aubrey Gilmore (haberdasher).
As a special treat for theatergoers, Spokane Civic Theatre will follow “The Taming of the Shrew” with “Kiss Me, Kate,” a musical take on the Shakespeare play, on the main stage May 19-June 11.
Much of the plot of “Kiss Me, Kate” details the conflict, both on- and off-stage, between director/producer/star Fred Graham (played by Alfred Drake in the original Broadway production) and leading lady/Fred’s ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Patricia Morison) during the production of a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
“People could see the derivative material alongside of the original and the inspiration,” Baker said. “We aren’t expecting a whole huge crossover, but there would be a few that would enjoy seeing both when the opportunity comes up.”
With opportunities like these, Baker hopes audiences will forget the uninspiring Shakespeare experiences they’ve had in the past and approach Civic’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” and any future productions of Shakespeare’s work, with a new mindset.
“It’s all very fixable to make funny scenes funny or intimate scenes intimate, dangerous scenes dangerous,” he said. “If you come and see it, it won’t be like a lot of the films or a lot of the way it’s typically done. I think a lot of the way it’s typically done is, unfortunately, kind of dull, and ours is not.”