For the second year Lovers & Madmen have presented outdoor Shakespeare in West Hollywood's beautiful Plummer Park and the quality of these shows is first rate. This year it was the famous Battle of the Sexes wherein the beautiful but bad-tempered Kate is being wooed near to death by the audacious and clever Petruchio. The excellent cast, under Bruce Cervi’s forceful direction, are at full throttle and the enthralled audience is full of glee to see this bitch tamed.
The challenge for any production of Shrew is to neutralize the terrible misogyny of the play. Shakespeare might have been having troubles with his wife Anne Hathaway at the time (maybe) but in this romp he certainly lauded a man’s ability, through bodily strength and shrewd psychology, to break a fierce woman’s spirit.
Sorry guys. If you are presenting this play you have to deal with what’s really going on. Petruchio is an adventurer looking for a rich wife and he doesn’t care if she’s fat, old or ugly. So much for a hero! Kate has an annoyingly gorgeous younger sister, who all the men are after, and who is also their father’s precious darling. To make Kate so beautiful (no matter what a character says in the play) causes immediate disbelief. Hey, with her looks and her $$$ there would be a dozen young fortune hunters willing to tolerate her bad moods. After all, what are men’s fists for if not to knock some sense into contrary women. It’s been going on for centuries and Will Shakespeare should be ashamed of himself.
At least in Merchant of Venice he gave Shylock a chance to show his side of the argument. Years of contempt, mockery and persecution made him hard. But all Will gives Kate is a really bad temper.
Breaking her spirit becomes the sport of the play and as I watched this superb production I grieved that they did not try to bring some other focus to it.
It can be done. I saw A. J. Antoon's rambunctious production in Central Park eons ago with Tracey Ullman as Kate and Morgan Freeman as Petruchio and what a match! She gave him as hard knocks as he gave her and in her final Lord & Master monologue she did indeed place her hand under his foot but only to toss him across the stage amid his, and the audiences, roars of laughter.
In this Plummer Park version, beautiful slender Charline Su and handsome virile Joshua Thomas were both in top form playing the traditional battle of dominance we expected. His abuse of her is certainly an effective comeuppance for having such a nasty disposition. However, the punishment does not fit the crime so the laughter at the violence done to her (and also to his servants) revealed an audience that apparently looks at cruelty as just another theatrical device.
I hope Lovers & Madmen will not be discouraged by my snippy comments and will be back next summer, with their excellent company, to bring Will alive again. But please, do not present Titus Andronicus or I will have to picket the venue!