What would compel a college theatre director to present a play about a woman whose husband essentially abuses her?
“You do it because you shouldn’t,” says Darcey Engen, associate professor and director of Augsburg’s re-envisioning of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, which opens tonight and runs Feb. 5-14.
“The play has been problematic since it was written,” Engen says. “But it has helped the students think about their acting choices as political.”
The story is that if Petruchio can get Katherine to agree to marry him, Baptista (Katherine’s father) will give Petruchio part of his fortune. Katherine does not want to marry Petruchio, so he tries to “tame” her by isolating her from her family, starving her, and denying her sleep.
Petruchio’s tactics, though clearly abusive, are presented in a comic tone, which contributes to the play’s problematic nature. “Once we drape violence in humor, it becomes permissible for us to think of it as normal,” Engen says. Examining this led Engen and the cast to ask what other aspects of our culture, such as violence or overt sexuality in the media, are not really seen.
The play’s humor is a powerful tool, which the cast uses to emphasize the interactions between men and women. This and other techniques, Engen writes in the director’s notes, “are used to ultimately expose the violence in order to disrupt the disturbing domination of Petruchio over Katherine.”
Engen writes that the production is “firmly planted in feminist performance theory, which asks all of us to recognize and think about how characters are constructed in this text, how they behave, and ultimately, what their behavior says politically about power issues between men and women.”
Performances of Taming of the Shrew are February 5, 6, 11, 12, 13 at 7 p.m. February 7 and 14 at 3 p.m. The February 13 performance is CTL Night at the Theater with a limited number free tickets available for faculty and staff and a dessert reception with the cast following the play. Contact Terry Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org for information.