The Taming
of the Shrew

September 16

November 12, 2017

CST's Courtyard Theater

by William Shakespeare
conceived & directed by Barbara Gaines
Columbia Women’s Club scenes by Ron West

A Conversation with the Director

CST Artistic Director Barbara Gaines met with the Education Department staff to share her plans for the Theater’s production of The Taming of the Shrew.

What made you decide to direct this play again—and now?

To be honest, the thought of doing it again surprised me. I directed this play in the early years of this company and Shakespeare’s script wasn’t particularly intellectually challenging to me, frankly—though the actors were brilliant and hilarious. But when we were planning this season, an entire concept came to me as one thought—“Shrew, all women, 1919, Suffragettes.” We’re still fighting for women’s rights all over the world, including here in the States. My goal for this show is to make people laugh—and to see how the issues of a hundred years ago resonate still with Shakespeare—and in 2017 with us.

In directing it now, twenty years later, has your relationship to the story changed?

Yes. I had never realized how much wisdom there is in this play until we started working on the suffragette framework and I started trying to connect these characters with the ones they were playing in The Taming of the Shrew. When I first staged it as a young director, I honestly did not see its profundity. And so this time when I began my moment-to-moment work in preparation for rehearsal, I was dazzled by some of the moments in this text. “It is the mind that makes the body rich,” Petruchio says to Kate when she so desperately wants a new dress to wear to her father’s house, returning there for the first time as a married woman. Speaking this simple, beautiful truth, his character is immediately made more complex than “woman abuser” affords. There are many other, equally profound, lines that I hope our audience will hear, perhaps for the first time. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to direct it again.

Talk about your decision to replace Shakespeare’s Christopher Sly frame with this new frame story, written by Ron West. Do you anticipate that this frame will in some ways change our understanding of Shakespeare’s story?

Yes, I think so. I hope so. Christopher Sly is only in the first few pages—you never see or hear from him again, and so the frame’s characters and its relationship to the larger story can be easily overlooked in Shakespeare’s text. In our frame story, each character’s personality is specific. We will play Shrew as a very funny–and enlightening–piece of work. We will never mock the play. But in the framework we will struggle with it, just as every company has struggled with it for centuries. I hope the framework will enlighten Shrew, and that Shrew will enlighten the age that these suffragettes lived in—as well as the age we are living in now. We have made enormous strides, but women are far from having equal rights.

Will we be conscious always that it is women playing men’s roles in Shrew?

I would love for you to get so caught up in the characters that you forget. We’ve done cross-dressing before—so many of Shakespeare’s plays demand it—so this is nothing new. Ultimately men have the same feelings that women have—though we express them differently...

Will we come to understand Shakespeare’s characters more deeply through the eyes of the women playing them?

Absolutely. Remember that Shakespeare worked with a team—he wrote for those specific actors whom he worked side by side with. These were his drinking buddies—guys that spent all their time together. He knew the soul of Burbage and Hemmings and Condell, and he was able to infuse them into his Hamlet and Feste, among so many others. And Ron West, who developed the frame story for our production, has the same gift of infusing comic characters with the breadth of humanity. When we watch comedy, the more we see ourselves in its characters, the more real, and touching, and hilarious it becomes.

What has dictated what you have cut to accommodate the new frame?

As you know, cutting Shakespeare is second nature to me by now. But everything you cut has ramifications five acts later. So when you’re cutting in Act I, you better know what’s going on in Act V. I cut some minor characters—easy to cut because you can always give those lines to other people onstage. I cut plotlines that lead nowhere—and, as always, I cut repetition. Shakespeare, particularly as a young playwright—as he was when he wrote this play—enjoyed creating lists of metaphors, one after another. Orson Welles (whose mother is now one of our Suffragette characters) once said—and I’m paraphrasing here—that every time you direct Shakespeare, you betray him. When you’re reading it, all possibilities are available—and there are countless possibilities and choices. But when a director starts to shape their vision for the play, they are necessarily ignoring so many other ways that one might interpret Shakespeare.

Barbara, have you seen discovered something new in Shakespeare’s characters as you’ve watched women portray them?

Yes, I absolutely have—in part, through the characters they are also playing in the frame story. The men they play in Shrew have become more three-dimensional to me. As they play them, we see how women view these men and their behavior. Male inspiration—and the complete lack of it sometimes—is so clear as I watch these women in these roles. I’ve seen great wisdom in Petruchio (Crystal Lucas-Perry) and a different kind of vulnerability in Kate (Alexandra Henrikson). You often watch Kate being completely worn down, and just learning the game just to survive her ordeal. But this is different. Instead, I’m watching the meeting of two people who are equally intelligent, strong—and lonely. I’ve seen more learning in both of them—each comes to a place of recognition that their past behavior might have been worth changing. Crystal and Alexandra aren’t afraid to go to that place of vulnerability with one another, where there are cracks in the heart. Because it is in those cracks that daylight is let in. As always, the places that we learn the most about Shakespeare’s characters are the intersections where our souls touch theirs.

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