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  • Writer's pictureClara Moses

From Shrews to Politicians

Our director, actors, and audiences alike have all been loving “The Taming.” It’s no surprise to us that the woman responsible for this wild, wacky and relevant story, Lauren Gunderson, is the country’s most produced living playwright. If you’ve heard of this show, you may be wondering what on earth made someone want to write about a beauty queen, a conservative senator's aide, and a liberal blogger. Would you believe us if we told you that Gunderson’s first spark of inspiration came from William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew?”

For those of you who slept through some of your high school English classes, here’s a brief synopsis of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Male lead, Petruchio, “courts” the headstrong female lead, Katherina. She is considered a “shrew” because Petruchio can’t wrap his head around the whole “she’s just not that into you” concept. He manages to “tame” Katherina by the end of the play through various forms of psychological torment, for example, not letting her eat or drink anything. This is why, in modern times, this play is often considered controversial and even misogynistic.

So, how did Gunderson leap from that to American pageants, politics, and history? Well, Shakespeare’s play is filled with battle of the sexes style debate, and the heat from that is what lit the fire under Gunderson. The all-female cast and girl power vibes in “The Taming” make it seem like quite a departure from the original work. However, people have been putting feminist spins on various versions of “The Taming of the Shrew” for decades. In fact, like most Shakespeare plays, this one is performed time and time again and has been adapted in many ways. If you think “The Taming” is a crazy interpretation, consider these…

● “Kiss Me, Kate” is a musical that first premiered in 1948. It was inspired by the on-stage/off-stage battling of husband-and-wife actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne during their 1935 production of “Shrew.” Cole Porter wrote the music and lyrics and in 1949, it won the first Tony Award for Best Musical.

● “The Shrew” is what Charles Marowitz simply titled his adaption of the classic. This version is refashioned as a Brothers Grimm-style gothic tragedy, with all aspects of comedy removed. Much of Shakespeare's original dialogue is maintained but rearranged.

● “10 Things I Hate About You” is a 1999 teen romantic comedy-drama film starring Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Larisa Oleynik. It is considered a loose modernization of “The Taming of the Shrew” and is set in a late-1990s American high school.

As you can see, being inspired by the Bard is nothing new. Some people even consider Disney’s “The Lion King” to be the animated jungle kingdom version of “Hamlet.” Revisiting classic plots and using these familiar stories to address modern issues in society has proven to be successful time and time again. If you’re looking for a great example of this, come see the “The Taming” during its last week at SBT!

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