London Stage actors perform Shakespearean classic

The Martel Theater brings five actors from the London Stage via the University of Notre Dame to Vassar’s campus, in order to perform the Shakespearean classic “The Taming of the Shrew.”/ Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From the London Stage via the University of Notre Dame 2018 Residency Program, five actors took to the Martel Theater this week, performing William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” The production ran from April 5 to April 7. The event was sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty and the Drama and Film Departments. The performance is part of the London Stage 2018 Spring Tour and is comprised of works by five British Shakespearean artists.

Peter Holland, the McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare Studies at the University of Notre Dame, states in the playbill, “Our company’s aim is to make his words exert their magic and their power in performance, but we do this in a vital, and perhaps unconventional way.” On a visual level, the stage lacks props and a formal set. The actors play multiple characters, which carries the potential for audience confusion; however, the actors pull it off effortlessly.

One of the most innovative elements, which helped viewers understand the character-switching, were the costume changes. Instead of happening backstage, they took place in full view, increasing both efficiency and dramatic intrigue. Adding to this original flair, the cast even threw flour at the audience before intermission, presenting a creative take on the old theatrical tradition of the audience members showering the actors with flour as a sign of appreciation.

Another original aspect about “The Taming of the Shrew” is that there was no official director. Instead, the actors collaborated as a directing body. Having the actors take part in the directing process allows for them to connect with Shakespeare’s work on a deeper level. The actors’ level of comfort with the complexities of the Shakespearean language is apparent given their ability to navigate even the most convoluted phrases with ease and poise. The company focuses on highlighting Shakesepare’s talent with words and they do this by employing a minimalist approach to theater.

Audience member Miranda Cornell ’19 commented on the experience of watching this classic performed by a cast that had so much directorial input: “As a drama major in a department that emphasizes peer/colleague collaboration, it was really inspiring to see people working in similar ways that we’re taught to work in, especially from such a renowned place like London. While ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is a highly problematic play that just seems a bit outdated, the actors from the London Stage (particularly Evelyn Miller and Lizzy Hopley) clearly put a lot of thought into the message they were collectively putting on stage.”

All five actors on stage play at least three characters. Kate, Baptista’s eldest daughter, and the “shrew” suggested by the title, is acted out by Lizzie Hopley, whose performance was commended by Cornell. Hopley also plays the roles of Biondello, Page, a Tapster and a Pedant.

Chris Donnelly mainly portrays Baptista, the rich father of two daughters living in Padua. He also plays Grumio and Hortensio. Bianca is Kate’s younger, more beautiful and mild-mannered sister and is portrayed by Evelyn Miller, who also plays Tranio, Haberdasher, a Tailor and a Huntsman. When it comes to the sisters’ relationship with their father, Bianca is the clear favorite. Kate’s larger size, quick temper and scathing tongue contribute to her negative characterization as a shrew.

Lucentio, played by Tom Kanji, is a rich young man who arrives in Padua with his two servants, Tranio and Biondello. He comes to Padua with academic intentions but quickly becomes infatuated by Bianca, the beauty.

Here emerges the conflict: Beautiful Bianca has three suitors, whereas Kate, the shrew, has none. However, their father forbids Bianca to marry before Kate. A majority of the play depicts what happens when a young man arrives to Padua in pursuit of marriage with the one stipulation that his wife is rich. For him, it’s all about the amount of his wife’s dowry. As for Bianca and Kate, finding a husband is the goal as is typical of female characters in Shakespearean settings.

Petruchio, the man who seeks to wed Kate, is played by Carl Prekopp. Once Kate and Petruchio get married, they flee to his country house, where he begins the process of “taming” his new wife by prohibiting her from eating or sleeping for several days. Petruchio justifies this torture by saying that his wife only deserves the best food and beds, which he cannot provide her with. After Kate has been “tamed,” the couple returns to Padua, where they reconvene with the family.

At the banquet following Hortensio’s wedding, an interesting turn of events occurs between the sister-rivals. All of the characters are surprised to see Kate newly “tamed,” sitting calmly by her husband’s side without a trace of her usual snarky attitude. To Bianca and Baptista especially, this massive personality change comes as a complete shock. The husbands decide to put Kate’s newfound loyalty to the test, and the eventual outcome of the challenge they pose suggests that Petruchio was, indeed, the right man to tame the shrew.

Kaitlin Prado ’19 delved into her perception of the complicated plot of the play: “I’ve always thought that there’s a lot about this Shakespeare comedy that ranges from anachronistic at best and quite tragic at worst.” However, recognizing the merit of the cast and crew, Prado continued, “The actors from the London Stage obviously paid close attention to every opportunity for comedy within the show with great effect, but they also took care in crafting some seriously grotesque moments between characters.”

Overall, the London Stage performance of “The Taming of the Shrew” took a traditional play and infused modern elements of staging, concept and production design to appeal to a 21st-century audience. They truly brought Shakespeare’s quick-witted words to life.

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