Tracker is a man who is naturally biased against the experiential knowledge of anyone who isn’t a cisgender man

Cara is a director in Philadelphia. She wrote this about the Lantern’s production of Taming of the Shrew last year.

 

Cara

What’s in your pockets, Tracker?

Tracker

I usually don’t like devised theatre because I have the general belief that such work is often intentionally or negligently obtuse. You?

Cara

I first heard about the show after a very upsetting talkback for the Lantern’s The Taming of the Shrew last year. I met the director, Christine Freije because she had my back in that talkback and mentioned she was working on it. Do you want to start with design?

Tracker

Sure. I wasn’t initially immediately struck by the overall design aesthetic. It looked like a devised piece’s set, with a lot of junk placed around somewhat with care but without necessarily clear intention. As the show played out I recognized more of how it fit, how the sparse and uninviting lighting served the sinister aspects of the Shakespeare text as it was directed to highlight. Most striking to me was during Petruchio’s “kill a wife with kindness” speech, where the actor was lit only by harsh fluorescent and halogen work light. No false sentiment there.

Cara

As opposed to the Lantern’s Taming of the Shrew, where that speech was memorably lit very lovingly.

Tracker

Disturbingly lovingly.

Cara

I liked the big cardboard Padua. It pointed to the thousands of productions of Shakespeare and this play at every level of production over the centuries.

Tracker

The cardboard Padua was a good use of limited resources to also evoke All The Shakespeares in their general blandness.

Cara

Doing devised theater on a budget is a gig I know very well, and I think Michael Iacobucci did a fantastic job. He really hit the balance of owning the level or resources that they had and avoiding sloppiness. Nothing about the design pretended to be what it wasn’t. But the design also didn’t apologize for being what it was. That is a very, very difficult thing to do.  

Tracker

It looked like it was within its budget but without actually sacrificing the overall aesthetic goal.Sometimes it happens when a budget is very large but the aesthetic goal is lost. In some shows, the set looks like it was very wealthily put together but serves nothing.

Cara

I love the way Reject used the space, although some older patrons seemed uncomfortable with a lot of standing or with sitting on the floor. The costumes got the job done, they were not overly ambitious.

Tracker

The sound design did a good job of being a foundation for the action of the play.

Cara

I really enjoyed the use of live sounds, and I think the artists were particularly precise with them. Like you said before, this kind of devised work can be sloppy and the ideas can get muddy, but that wasn’t the case here.

Tracker

Yes, even the sound design spoke of a really tight ensemble. A place where, perhaps, every voice was heard. The scene where Petruchio brutally murders his horse is one area where I immediately think of great live foley buoying the onstage action. Whether down to director or designer, the ensemble-like aspect of the sound design was directed to a point.

Cara

There was a lot of discipline in the cast. And I really have to say that the direction on this piece was fantastic. Christine Freije is really young and she was directing her peers, which can add a level of difficulty. But the show is evidence of a director who is very good at making tough decisions and creating a really good collaborative environment. Every single element of this piece was on message.

Tracker

Absolutely. Christine Freije had such a clear grand vision and was absolutely able to communicate and direct that to seven performers and a designer—no mean feat even in straightforward, classic box-set plays.

Cara

I’m really, really impressed with her work. I don’t want to diminish her work or the work of the performers because of their age, because they are strong artists in their own right, but for actors at their age and level of experience to be able to use their bodies and voices so clearly, with such confidence and precision is worth pointing out.  

Tracker

I liked that the performers were also competent at Shakespeare. It would have diminished the whole effect of the show were they even slightly-less-good than they were.

Cara

One thing that did bother me a little was that the two black actresses were in the masculine roles. The “shrew” label hits black women even harder in other incarnations like ABW, so I would have liked to see the show acknowledge that their perceived strength doesn’t make them immune to this kind of dismissal.

Tracker

That’s a very good point to make. Also to that point, Leslie Nevon Holden as Petruchio was just fantastic.

Cara

She’s a powerhouse. A lesser actress would have stomped through that in a parody of masculinity, but it would have diminished the piece. What she gave us was so much more powerful and unseltting because she gave it so much depth.

Tracker

She portrayed a completely awful, completely self-assured-of-his-own-rights piece of shit asshole. She had so much control of both the world of the play in which Petruchio existed and of the stage and audience of SHREW. I found myself hating him and afterwards almost having trouble separating actor from character. Part of my distaste for Petruchio, though, reflects a particular distaste for myself, in that: how is it that I allow men like these to continue existing? It’s an entirely masculine reaction, that it somehow falls on myself to be responsible for the ills of other men.

Cara

So what was that like seeing a woman play that role?

Tracker

Maybe because of how well Leslie Nevon Holden performed it, or because of what I brought to the play— my interpretation that that character was an indictment of our passive culture in relation to abuse—I didn’t really think of the gender-based casting of the role. She was He. It did, perhaps, soften some of the more violent parts of the performance, because for a minute I could step back and know it was an actor performing combat, and not just me idly standing by watching a woman get badly hurt.

Cara

I also want to highlight Julia Ray, whose David Attenborough was hilarious because it was restrained. She doesn’t list anything but classical work in her bio, but she seemed to have some good clown chops.

And Zoe Richards was particularly terrifying as the feminine voice that shuts other women down. Her modulation of sunshine and control was really specific.

Tracker

Yes! Her company director character was so chilling. Superficially, Petruchio might be the outright villain, but Richards’s character is the most damaging and dangerous.

Cara

Something I respect in Hannah Van Sciver, as well, is that she’s very giving to other performers. She is really charismatic, and I feel like in an ensemble she corrects for that, and gives focus to others. For me, that adds another element of feminism to the production- these women shared the space and took care of each other

Tracker

It was more about knowing one’s space: it was about knowing the space.

Cara

I liked Emily Fernandez in the Kate role, I think she did a good job of balancing her internal and external struggles. And she was very deft with the classical text.

Tracker

Also agree. In the performance I saw, I was one of the audience members she appealed to, to see her and what was happening to her. It was a thoroughly unsettling and affecting experience. As a side note to the perniciousness of the culture that allows productions of Taming of the Shrew to exist, we definitely still refer to Katerina as Kate, even though that’s not her name at all. Cole Porter is at least partly to blame.

Cara

Damn you, Cole Porter!  For me the talkback sections and direct commentary were soothing in a way that I can’t really describe. It was such a balm on the loneliness and anger I had been carrying since the response to the Lantern’s The Taming of the Shrew.  SHREW used a lot of the word-for-word text from that talkback. Maybe that was an experience that was uniquely mine, but I treasure it. This is part of what I was feeling about Time is on Our Side. I really like that people are making work that is local and specific and speaks to and responds to our community. That’s something theater does best.

Tracker

I wasn’t present for that talkback, so that aspect of the effect didn’t hit me the same way. Even so, I could clearly hear the voice of The Well-Meaning Man Who Has to Explain To Little Ol’ You What He Really Means. Kelsey Hodgkiss’ actor character in the immediate talkback was pitch perfect without becoming parody. The most heartbreaking scene for me was the final dialogue between Bianca and Katerina. Kelsey’s Bianca—with the Shakespeare text and the deconstructed, critical text of Shrew—was so hard-hitting, and it could have gone wrong performatively if Kelsey didn’t know exactly what she was doing. I’m actually getting fairly upset now recalling that scene. And Minou Pourshariati also had such command of space and movement, too.

Cara

The movement was very strong. It was extremely specific. Christine Freije and her team were incredibly careful about making sure that every choice told a story.

Tracker

While at the same time not over-imbuing each finger twitch with *meaning.*

Cara

Right.

Tracker

The choreographed movement pieces highlighted the text and intention of the show and never felt out-of-place or too whimsical. The culmination of all of those being the final montage/tableau using  Katerina’s “Did I dream ‘til now” speech, which belongs to Christopher Sly in the original text.

Cara

I appreciated the timing and specificity of the deprivation of sleep scenes. It was very easy to empathize.

Tracker

And with the juxtaposition of using such a peppy song to underscore it.

Cara

They creepily highlighted the timelessness of the issues being discussed.

Tracker

How, even in a world where abuse happens, other happy things exist along with it. It’s deeply disturbing. The campy dumb-show of the B-plot also served that effect. while also allowing the audience a moment to breathe. That point in the show where they pantomime Bianca’s love story. It’s all fairly silly and whimsical and straightforward, and it ends with Bianca’s complete, blissful happiness. Then her abused sister shows up.

Cara

Oh man, that was totally cribbed from the Lantern in the most devilish, wonderful way. I think we can say overall that these women are what so many collaborative and devising groups try to be. They were mature enough, skilled enough and generous enough to get a message across clearly, and to challenge their audience without alienating it. I don’t want to underestimate how difficult that is to do. And I’m also impressed by how skillfully they used their anger. They never diminished the feelings that they had around the play, but they avoided the trap of limiting the response to a shallow satire, too.

Tracker

Yes. It would have been easy to do the latter. Christine Freije’s group took the harder path, and they forged a way through and with it. I really look forward to seeing what these women do in the future.

Cara

With this, and with Time is on Our Side right now I am feeling like we might be coming up on a new, more thoughtful, generous and grown-up Philly theater.

Tracker

Me, too. SHREW makes me feel very good about where Philly theatre can go, and also where it is right now.

 

3 thoughts on “SHREW- Reject Theater Project

  1. Hello! Thanks for your awesome words on SHREW and my design! Could you change my pronouns to they/them please? I understand that it was not made known of what my gender is. Thank you!

    Like

  2. WTF IS THIS PRETENTIOUS ASS BULLSHIT??? LOL. YOU THEATER MAJORS ARE GOING TO BE PUTTING AWAY MY CARTS WHEN YOU WORK AT TARGET A FEW YEARS FROM TODAY. Better vote for bernie sanders’ communist ass so that you idiots can take my money when you realize no one gives a shit about a pretentious asshole theater major.

    Like

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