The sporadic ramblings of Emily C. A. Snyder - devoted to God, theatre, writing, and much randominity.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

Artistic Director and Co-Founder of TURN TO FLESH PRODUCTIONS. | Author of "Nachtstürm Castle," "Niamh and the Hermit." | Playwright: "Cupid and Psyche," "Math for Actors." | Classical director and educator.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Thoughts on Shrew

Some character descriptions - at least as they stand at the moment, before we cast the show!


Basic note for everyone: Everyone in this play has several faces, different masks that they wear. Find what the mask is and what the true face is, and we have a character!

Wears the mask of being a sort of loud, larger-than-life madman – like a man who believes he’s playing pirate with the whole world. However, he seems to really admire Kate as someone who can finally match him. He may even be a little afraid of her – afraid of the whole world finding out that he’s just a braggart with not much underneath it. He’s a man of power, who needs a good woman beside him.

I think that I’ll have Lucentio also play the part of Sly in the beginning. Lucentio is the young fellow who’s on his first trip out into the world. Because of this, he’s wide-eyed, naïve, and more in love with the idea of love, than actually in love with anyone. This is why he plays the game with Bianca, who is likewise in love with the idea of love.

I don’t know that there’s much change between Lucentio and Cambio – the name he takes as the philosophy and language tutor. If anything, I think he lets his mask slip and he becomes more the actor, and less Lucentio or even Sly.

As Sly, Lucentio is the same devil-may-care fool – only one who’s in love with drink. But like Lucentio, Sly is easily manipulated, willing to put on costumes and believe whatever the Lord/Tranio tells him.

Hortensio also gets to play two roles: himself and the musician. As himself, I think he can be played – as it often traditional – as a fellow who’s trying too hard: too hard to fit into the Italian Renaissance, too hard to look like a gentleman, too hard to look like a romantic wooer.

Similarly, when he plays the musician (and I’m not sure how good he is at music), he goes overboard, being the most musiciany musician ever. Think of the minstrels from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Look here for what I mean (a bit of crude language at the end of the first song):

Gremio is pretty much who he is – a waaaaaaaaaaaay old fool who wants to marry Bianca, perhaps as a trophy wife. However, rather than playing a mask, he’s taken in by masks, such as believing Lucentio to be the servant and Tranio to be the lord.

Kate may behave like a shrew, but this like Petruchio’s seeming madness, is a defence mechanism against the pain she’s had in the past. When she’s spoken her mind, she’s been called a shrew; when she’s stood up for herself, she’s been called a shrew. And at a certain point, when you’ve been called something so much, you may as well act that way. That said, she’s clever, she’s quick, and she won’t just settle for a man who can’t match her.

Bianca wants to be Barbie. For the first time, she can wear the clothes and get the boys – and she’s enjoying every moment of it. Of course, she’s also playing a part, because I think beneath the demure exterior, is a very selfish, spoiled shrew. (I also think Bianca can probably take Kate on in a fight.)

I’m probably going to be combining the Housewife from the introduction with the “lusty widow” who marries Hortensio at the end. This is the aging shrew: she knows her mind and speaks it; she sees a man and she domineers him; she probably nagged her first husband to death, and she’ll nag Hortensio to death, too!

The original deception! I’m going to be combining the roles of Tranio/Lord – however, I’m more than open to Tranio/Lord being played by a woman as a woman (Tranio/Lady). If played as a woman, then all the Violas, Rosalinds, and ever Eponine who ever lived should inform this role. If played by a man…not so much.

The Lord is the one who plays the trick on Sly – and turns him into Lucentio. In our play-within-a-play, the Lord then pretends to be Sly “Lucentio’s” servant. S/he’ll need to work on remembering to be a servant – to call Sly “master/sir” etc.

“Tranio” then convinces Lucentio to switch places with him, in order to help Lucentio to get Bianca. “Tranio” becomes a Lord again – pretending to be Lucentio. He may go slightly over the top as Lucentio – showing Sly/Lucentio what an ass he really is.

Basically, Tranio/Lord is the king of masqueraders

This character can be played by either a man or a woman, and may take on different shadings depending on which gender plays the role. However, some things that remain constant is that Grumio is in many ways the perfect servant and the perfect Fool. That is, he’s silly enough to be amusing to the audience, and clever enough to look foolish. He can play with words, and although he shadows his master Petruchio, he also works to thwart his masters for his own pleasure and amusement.

Almost certainly, Baptista Minola will be played by an actress. However, that actress can choose whether she wants to play Baptista as a man or as a woman – since a father “selling” his daughters into marriage is a bit different from a mother doing so, and I would be interested in what the actress wants to emphasize with her choice. That said, there’s a mercenary part of Baptista – the part that wants wealthy suitors for his daughters – but there’s also an absolute coward – the type that doesn’t want to get to know his daughters, but just to get them out of the house. Yet, we laugh with him and feel for his dilemma.

Again, Vincentio may be played by either a man or a woman, and if by an actress may choose whether she’s playing a mother or father. Regardless, Vincentio is kind of amazing because he comes in to check up on his son, Lucentio, only to find that in sending his kid off to college everything’s gone insane. He doesn’t fall for anyone’s disguises – even Tranio/Lord’s; he won’t be persuaded he’s crazy; he sees through everything and calls BS. In many ways, he ought to be the über-father.

The opposite of Vincentio – and again this role may be played by either a man or a woman, just so long as when they play Vincentio they match somehow – the Pendant is easily fooled into thinking that his life is on the line unless he does what Tranio says and dresses up as Vincentio. In some ways, the Pendant is the perfect father to Sly – he may even be a drunkard. Again, lots of room here for a good comic actor!

Haberdasher & Tailor
These characters, I think, may be rivals with one another. I’d love to see a sort of great chemistry and animosity between them. And yet, their hats and clothes that they make are more important than their strife, and I imagine that as Petruchio ruins their work, they may be even more outraged over that! Again, lots of room for comic sensibilities.

Every servant has a servant that they lord it over – Curtis is the fellow that’s lorded over by Grumio. And again, depending on whether actors or actresses play these parts, there may be something more between them between mere hierarchy. That said, Curtis tends not to do work quickly, he’s lazy, a little slow (maybe hard of hearing? – or he just likes to mess with Grumio), he doesn’t keep Petruchio’s house in very good order – but other than that, he gets along with Grumio bossing him around.

Among servants in literature, there’s also the overachiever servant. Biondello may also play the part of Sly’s “wife” (servant to the Lord) and so be in on the whole play-within-a-play. Certainly, Biondello is determined to be the best servant ever, even if that means mostly running around and running the best errands ever. Biondello can easily be an audience favourite if played right: that is with eagerness, amusement and a little naïveté.

Mood: Good. Life is good.
Music: "A Little Priest" from Sweeney Todd
Thought: I just saw the Burton/Taylor version of Shrew and was unimpressed - although it did yield some good ideas. I hope to do up a post about that, soon.


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