On April 26, 2015, I had the opportunity to go back to the American Shakespeare Center and see Much Ado About Nothing. It was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. It was so much better than I’d imagined while reading it. I was even able to get in on the action.
“Check your email NOW,” I texted my mom. I’d just received another email from Professor Cull about seeing Much Ado About Nothing at the American Shakespeare Center, and since Mom has to help me do certain things, I figured it would be good if she was in on it. The show is on April 11. I have a feeling we’ll all be constantly critiquing it, since we studied Much Ado for most of January. I can’t wait to go back!
On Sunday when I checked my school email, I was pleasantly surprised to find a message from Professor Cull, the English professor I went to Staunton with. Inside was a link to an episode of PBS Shakespeare Uncovered analyzing The Taming of the Shrew. The episode features many interviews with actors and scholars giving their impressions of Taming and how its interpretations have changed with time.
Given my previous experience with the play, it was interesting to hear other opinions. Some of their ideas seemed stretched, but not beyond reason. Enjoy, and if you feel so inclined, feel free to share what you think.
It was nice to finally see this play in its entirety. The previous rehearsals did not make much sense because the actors were working on the last scene, 5.6. Unlike The Rover, which I had trouble following, my lack of familiarity with this play did not hinder my ability to understand what was going on.
This play was intense from beginning to end. And the intensity just kept building, an endless stream of rising action until the final scene. There did not seem to be a climax because the final scene had a bunch of death, like any other tragedy. The death was the falling action, but it did not do much to resolve the conflict in the play. When Giovanni says “He turned murderer! Away with them to prison and to torture. All that have hands in this shall taste our justice, as I hope heaven,” it seems to add more to the plot so that the play cannot be over just yet (5.6, 287-290). But when the audience thinks about it, with most of the characters dead at this point, not much more can happen. So I guess one could say that the conflicts have been resolved, but death is no way to resolve things.
I was impressed by Bridget Rue’s portrayal of Isabella. Like the rest of the play, the separation of Brachiano and Isabella was anything but warm and fuzzy. When Isabella was crying because she was upset about the separation, the scene became emotionally charged while keeping its seriousness. It made Bridget seem more feminine than she had as Florinda in The Rover.
I was also intrigued by the separation itself. To break it off, Brachiano tells Isabella “Henceforth, I’ll never lie with thee, by this, this wedding ring: I’ll ne’er more lie with thee” (2.1, 194-195). Later in the same scene, Isabella responds to Brachiano: “Henceforth, I’ll never lie with you, by this, this wedding-ring” (2.1, 253-254). I find it interesting that Isabella throws Brachiano’s own words back at him.
As usual, Allison Glenzer had a great performance because she was able to passionate quickly. When Marcello dies in 5.2, his mother Cornelia weeps over his body, refusing to believe he is dead: “Alas, he is not dead: he’s in a trance. Why here’s nobody shall get anything by his death. Let me call him again, for God’s sake” (5.2, 27-29). Carlo interjects with “I would you were deceived” (5.2, 30). Cornelia turns on him, now angry as well as sad: “O you abuse me, you abuse me, you abuse me. How many have gone away thus for lack of tendance; rear up’s head, rear up’s head; his bleeding inward will kill him” (5.2, 31-33). Allison went from sad to angry and back again without missing a beat.
It was clear that everyone was still working out the kinks; the actors used “prithee” a lot. One aspect of the play that had been worked out by the time of the dress rehearsal was the stage combat in the final scene. Half way through the final rehearsal before Wednesday’s dress rehearsal, Benjamin Reed, actor and resident expert in such stunts, pointed out some safety issues and suggested other actors’ positions so that the audience would get the best view of the action. All of his suggested changes were implemented in the dress rehearsal, and the scene flowed very well.
Although I enjoyed the performance of The Rover, I found it harder to follow than The Taming of the Shrew, probably because I had not read it beforehand. My lack of familiarity also hindered my ability to find the humor – I saw other people in the audience laughing, but I had no idea what they were laughing at.
It was evident that The Rover was written later than Shakespeare’s plays because it featured strong heroines. Femininity had not changed, but women used their sexuality to get what they wanted. Since plays in the Restoration Era would have been produced on a bigger stage, the actors used every inch of the stage for the sword fights.
I was surprised at the amount of rape in the play. Whether someone is drunk or not, Carnival is not an excuse to break all the rules and have a rape free-for-all. Although Willmore had more than one opportunity to ally with the audience, and he was funny when he realized Florinda was on stage because he was drunk, that is not an opportunity or an excuse to rape her. Why did Florinda keep her mouth shut when Willmore proposed marriage to Hellena? Maybe because she wanted to see her sister happy, but I still think she should have said something.
Along the same lines of rape and sex, I was completely confused by Angelica Bianca. Yes, I know she’s a really pretty prostitute, but why does she get so hurt when Willmore goes back to Hellena? She’s probably had all the guys tell her she’s beautiful. And because she sells her body, sex does not mean as much as it could. What makes Willmore different?
I was both surprised and somewhat disappointed that Allison did not have a bigger role. Maybe part of me is biased because I think she is a really great actress and she is capable of a lot more. It was hard to not see her as Kate; seeing her as a clown was weird. I only say somewhat disappointed, though, because I understand that she is not the only actress and everyone should have a chance to play the lead roles. I was impressed by Lauren Ballard. Not that I thought she was not capable of playing more than Biondello-type clown characters, but she brought a powerful edginess to Hellena’s character. She was not going into the convent without a fight. Lauren’s height also surprised me. Since the audience only sees Biondello from a distance it is harder to tell. But because she was in the major scenes in this play, it was almost impossible not to notice how short she is.
Florinda was interesting to see. Bridget is a great actress, but I felt Florinda could have been a bit more feminine. I’m not sure if it was just her mannerisms, or if her comment in the talk-back about not being super feminine had any influence on how I saw her portrayal. However, Florinda is a strong character because she would not be forced into marriage. She loved Belvile, and that was that. Status and fortune could not sway her. Bridget’s facial expressions said it all.
I had a hard time keeping track of which actor played which character. This was complicated by the fact that in one scene, Florinda and Hellena had a father, but in the next, the same actor – Rene Thornton – played their brother, Don Pedro. Because I had trouble keeping track of the characters, it was hard to remember the relationships between the characters.
I was also confused as to why people were trying to force Hellena into a convent in the first place. I just think it would be easier to find advantageous marriages for both girls rather than forcing one into a convent when she obviously does not want to go. Unless she is wild like Kate in Taming of the Shrew, and everyone thinks it would be easier to put her away instead of deal with her. Both Florinda and Don Pedro say something about how Hellena is “designed” to be a nun, but unfortunately it is never explained further.
I really enjoyed both performances of The Taming of the Shrew on Friday, January 23, and Saturday, January 24. I was able to pick up on the humor that I did not catch while I read it. In the first performance on Friday, I was caught off guard by the start of the show – the actor playing Sly was sitting in the audience, so when he came up on the stage, I thought he was just a random drunk guy trying to get one last drink before the show. I did not realize that the show had already started until Sly passed out and the Lord and his attendants came out.
On Saturday during the second performance, I realized Bianca was manipulative. When Baptista enters the room and sees Bianca and Kate fighting, Bianca immediately runs to him and turns on the tears. Kate did not seriously hurt her, because she was not crying before Baptista entered the room. It seemed like Bianca was just looking for sympathy and a way to get Kate in trouble.
One of the funniest parts, at least for me, was Bianca and Kate's tutoring. When Hortensio – disguised as the girls’ music and math tutor, Licio – says the instrument is in tune, he does not just mean the lute. So it seems fitting that when Kate becomes frustrated with the instrument, she sticks it in Licio’s reproductive region.
The portrayal of Petruccio was interesting. He seems like a well-born, decent man at first, and he is the only one bold enough to woo Kate so that Hortensio and Gremio can have a shot at Bianca. But when Petruccio started to woo Kate, the situation escalated. Petruccio was actually just as wild as Kate. In the wooing scene, I enjoyed how Kate and Petruccio circled each other as if in a boxing ring, but it seemed toned down in the second performance. Kate and Petruccio made use of the entire stage during this scene.
Petruccio’s method of taming Kate was intense. It is one thing to read it in the text, but seeing the actors play it out puts it on an entirely different level. Petruccio is oblivious to the fact that his treatment of Kate is wrong, and so he feels no remorse. He expects her to be happy, not realizing that she is unable to because she has not had any food or water in days. Alison Glenzer was phenomenal throughout both performances, but I felt she played this scene exceptionally. The way she fainted and licked the plate furiously gave the audience a clear indication of how Kate felt. Her costume spoke volumes, too. Her hair was down, a sign that Kate was distressed. Her dress was also far from clean, a sign that not only had Petruccio refused to give her food and water, but he had also taken away the opportunity to shower. Petruccio was going to have his way with Kate, no matter what it cost her.
In “taming” her though, Petruccio stripped away all of Kate’s personality. At the end of the play, she is the only one who comes when called. Pre-Petruccio Kate would never have been so submissive. The way Allison explained Kate’s final speech in the talk-back made sense – she seemed to think Kate had finally found someone she could love and give everything she had to – but no one should have to completely change who they are just to be with someone. In the final scene during her speech, Kate’s tone of voice changes. It becomes softer, losing the harsh tone it had in the rest of the play. Allison used her voice to emphasize how much Kate changed.
I felt that the performances were remarkably consistent given the actors’ limited rehearsal time. Neither of my seats offered a perfectly clear view of the stage, but I preferred the pole on the first floor obstructing my view because I could read the actors’ facial expressions. From the balcony, I could only see the tops of people’s heads, and I could barely see stage right. This made it much harder to pay attention.