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Shakespeare to hit the Chicago parks as CST presents free tour of ‘Taming of the Shrew’

Submitted by on Jul 25, 2012 – 4:08 pm

Preview: Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s condensed, 75-minute treatment of Shakespeare’s comedy “The Taming of the Shrew” will have 17 free performances in 11 parks July 29-Aug. 19.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

He may be known as the Bard of Avon, but William Shakespeare becomes the people’s poet of Chicago on July 29 when Chicago Shakespeare Theater kicks off a tour of the city’s parks with its rollicking short take on “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The series of 17 free performances in 11 parks begins at the South Shore Cultural Center, then moves around town over the next two and a half weeks before finishing at Frank J. Wilson Park on Aug. 17-19.

“The Taming of the Shrew” is about a hellcat of a girl, Katherine, a holy terror to everyone around her – men and women alike, her father as well as her younger sister, the fair and gentle Bianca. Men are lining up to wed Bianca but she can’t marry until her father finds a husband for Kate.

That Kate is also very smart, and has perhaps never found a possible mate she might want, comes clearly to light in CST’s approach to the play.

Enter Petruchio, just arrived from a neighboring town, looking to wed a rich girl. He hears about this vile Kate – she’s known as Kate the Curs’d — whose wealthy father is prepared to endow her handsomely for any man who will take her. Petruchio cheerfully steps up to the plate, and the two quickly discover they’re well matched in wit as well as willfulness.

A collaboration between Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the arts and culture department of the Chicago Park District, the Shakespeare swing is the city’s most ambitious venture into making live theater available in the parks.

“We have theater and dance and visual arts programs throughout the city all the time, but this is a big deal for us because it involves such a high-profile organization as Chicago Shakespeare Theater,” says Carla Mayer, arts and cultural manager for the Chicago Park District. “We’re very excited to bring Shakespeare to the far corners of the city, and CST is just as excited as we are.”

After performing this condensed, 75-minute version of “The Taming of the Shrew” at CST last spring, mainly for school-age audiences, the energetic young cast directed by Rachel Rockwell took the show on a tour of Chicago schools. Actor Ericka Ratcliff, who plays the shrewish Kate in this rough-and-tumble comedy, says airing Shakespeare in the parks is a special opportunity for the company as well as the public.

“I feel really honored to be part of this,” says Ratcliff. “We have a great cast of people who are very focused. Backstage you don’t see anybody kicking back, waiting for an entrance. Everybody’s into it. We’re all having great fun.”

This lavishly costumed production is indeed a riot, not only very physical but also smartly disciplined – with that precise timing and delivery that drives comedy over the top. The show also finds a workable modernist perspective on the severe “correction” Kate takes at the hands of her new husband Petruchio, an issue that has haunted the play for generations.

And therein lies the problem of the play for modern audiences. Once he has wedded Kate, Petruchio sets about breaking her like a wild horse, through very aggressive and uncompromising measures. He deprives her of food and sleep and insists that she defer to his every wish and whim.

“Rachel and I were on the same page with this,” says Ratcliff. “We knew we were going into the schools and we certainly didn’t want to convey the wrong message to little girls. Our interpretation is that Kate is a terrible person who’s acting out in crazy ways, but that she really finds a soul mate in Petruchio. It’s a love story. It’s really about the two of them learning mutual respect.”

Matt Mueller, who plays Petruchio, puts it differently:

“Labeling someone is the easiest way not to get to know them,” he says. “Kate is loud and obnoxious, but I think she and Petruchio are similar and complementary. He’s surprised as soon as he meets her. He knows her reputation, but there’s an instant attraction. She comes back at him at his own level of energy. For both of them, this is exciting, this is really cool. He gets more than he bargained for, but they work through a lot of stuff. By the end, they’ve both grown quite a bit.”

Director Rockwell says Kate and Petruchio are a pair indeed. “Petruchio is so unlikable – arrogant, and such a pig,” she says. “On the other hand, Kate is moody, angry and hormonal. But by the end of the play, you’re convinced they’re going to have a very healthy relationship.”

From her painstaking reduction of Shakespeare’s full-length play to grappling with the logistics of bringing “Shrew” to the parks – including the use of a big truck that serves as a fold-out stage – Rockwell says the project has been “an incredibly large undertaking.

“But it’s such a gift to the community, and to CST, to take this work outside their building and offer it to anyone who wants to come to see it.”

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: It’s Kate who gives a sharp lesson to music instructor Hortensio (Matthew Sherbach). Descending: Feisty lovers Petruchio (Matt Mueller) and Kate (Ericka Ratcliff). Tranio (Alex Goodrich, left) explains the scheme behind an identity switch to his fellow servant Biondella (Jessie Fisher). Petruchio (Matt Mueller) dons an outrageous costume for his wedding to Kate (Ericka Ratcliff). (Photos by Liz Lauren) Below: Map of the “Shrew” parks tour, with dates, times and locations. (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)



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