In the current production of "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, the two central roles of Petruchio and the woman who eventually becomes his wife, Katherine, are being played by real-life husband and wife of almost four years, Cody Nickell and Kate Eastwood Norris.
The story of "The Taming of the Shrew" is a witty struggle between two strong individuals, Petruchio and Katherine. Katherine is difficult to get along with and hard to marry off, as her mother is trying to do, insisting that she marry before her younger sister, Bianca, does. Bianca is of a totally different temperament; she's easy-going and has several suitors. Petruchio agrees to woo and marry Katherine as a favor to a friend who wants to marry Bianca.
This production, directed by Aaron Posner, is set in the Wild West in the 1880s. In it, Katherine is not simply independent, as she is in many productions. "Kate is very much her own woman, but not because she's just headstrong." said Norris.
|'The Taming of the Shrew'|
|Where: Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE|
|When: Through June 10|
|Info: $30 to $65; 202-544-7077; folger.edu|
"This Kate is a lonely person, full of self-loathing. I start off in a very bad place in the play. I did not grow up in a happy household. I'm quite violent, and I'm always angry. I wouldn't want to be around me either."
"At the beginning of the play, this Kate is not a free-spirited, empowered woman," agreed Nickell. "She's an unhappy, broken person."
One problem posed for contemporary productions of "Taming of the Shrew" is a speech at the end of the play, in which Katherine does a turnaround, humbling herself before her new husband and celebrating her marriage to him. Posner has handled this situation by creating a true love story, so that final speech will seem convincing.
"The big journey Katherine takes is that she gets to the point where she can say these things, whether truthfully because she really loves Petruchio or even tongue-in-cheek," said Nickell. "The important thing is really that she is a free woman, capable of saying them.
"What Petruchio tries to show Kate throughout the play is that words are malleable and meanings are malleable. We're really trying to stress the fact that Petruchio and Kate are teammates at the end, rather than stressing her being submissive to me."
"What Petruchio does by 'taming' me is to release me from my anger," said Norris. "It has more to do with that than it does with submission and humility. He shows me who I really am. By the end of the play, it's not hard for me to say, 'I want to do things for you, to do what helps you.' That's a fine sentiment for someone who really loves another."