WILLIAM Shakespeare’s gotta be blushing in his grave thanks to Armstrong State University. Throughout their fall semester, the university has paid loving homage to the playwright through a variety of productions, including the hysterical romp The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief.
The tribute wraps this weekend with Armstrong Masquers Theatre’s rendition of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy The Taming of the Shrew.
The classic has been adapted countless times—Cole Porter’s musical version Kiss Me, Kate and the 1967 film of the play (starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) are favorites, as is 1999 teen flick 10 Things I Hate About You.
The hysterical tale revolves around the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina, the “shrew” in question. Headstrong Kate is not into the idea of romance with Petruchio, but through clever banter and plenty of mind games, Petruchio eventually charms her and the two fall deeply in love.
After directing last year’s Julius Caesar, Dr. Peter Mellen was eager to bring some laughs to the Armstrong stage.
“I didn’t want to do another serious one,” he reveals. “It was time for a comedy. I haven’t done this comedy in 20 years, and I just think it’s a fun show.”
Many modern Shakespeare productions bring The Bard’s work to life in nontraditional settings—in fact, Armstrong’s Caesar was set in post-Soviet Republic Eastern Europe—but Dr. Mellen decided to stick with Taming of the Shrew’s original time period.
“I was talking to John Wright, our scenic designer, and we started talking about where you put Shakespeare, and he told me of an Onion article: “[Unconventional Director Sets Shakespeare Play In Time, Place Shakespeare Intended],” Dr. Mellen chuckles.
“I have no problem playing around with the placement of time if there’s some benefit to it. I’m not sure how Taming of the Shrew gets much benefit of moving out of time and place,” he says.
“We decided, what the heck, let’s be bold and different and stay where Shakespeare wrote it, in the Italian Renaissance. I think it works very well on its own.”
Having directed many Shakespeare productions, Dr. Mellen is used to presenting the work both in and out of period.
“I think the two things I was concerned about was, one, it’s a comedy. Make it funny,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how accurate we are if it’s not funny. That was our big thing.
“The second was, this is a love story, and there really is a love story between [Katherina] and Petruchio. I think sometimes in production that gets lost. Our concern was to make sure we bring out the love story. Petruchio gets into all this because he’s out for money, and once he sees [Katherina] and starts interacting with her, he realizes this is the woman for him and no other woman will do. And for [Katherina], she discovers Petruchio is the man for her and no other man will do. It takes them both awhile before they can admit this, but they make a pretty darn good team. We wanted to make sure we got the comedy out and developed the story.”
A talented troupe of undergraduate students, led by TJ Vaughn (Petruchio) and Emily Edwards (Katherina), will illuminate the stage. Dr. Mellen is proud of their “fun, interesting little group,” which features students of a variety of disciplines, including a few theatre majors.
To create the best production possible, Dr. Mellen focused on making sure the actors understood exactly what they were saying at all times. As anyone who had to read it in high school knows, Shakespeare can be tricky, and according to the Shrew director, audiences can tell when an actor doesn’t quite comprehend what their character is trying to articulate.
“If the actors know what they are saying, they can say it in a way that the audience can understand it,” Dr. Mellen explains. “You can always tell when an actor doesn’t know what they’re saying in Shakespeare: They talk really fast with a really British voice, going up and down for no good reason! That means, ‘I kind of know what’s going on on this page, but I don’t really know what I’m saying.’ Our cast knows exactly what they’re saying, so if you avoided seeing Shakespeare because you think you won’t understand, you’ll get it. If you avoided it because you think it’s long and dull, it’s not! It’s a lot of fun. You will understand what’s going on.”
Hurricane Matthew put a damper on the Masquers’ rehearsal schedule, but the cast worked hard to spring back. Now, they’re ready present The Taming of the Shrew in all its glory and look back on a rich Shakespearean semester.
“Come on down!” encourages Dr. Mellen. “That’s all you need to do with this show: Relax, have a good time, and enjoy this great romantic comedy.”