This weekend, William Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew will receive a makeover, complete with gender-bending and character tweaking, courtesy of Jane Jongeward ’14. Jongeward, who is directing the show as part of her senior exercise, is a synoptic major, studying Renaissance literature in performance.
“This play can easily be played as a tragedy,” Jongeward said. “The recent trend is to play it as a comedy. I have seen several very funny performances, but the ending always falls flat. I’m trying to determine exactly what it takes to make a happy Kate and Petruchio [romance] believable. I am playing with gender: men play female characters, and women play male characters.”
Shrew is a comedy that centers on the romantic trials of two very different sisters, Katharina, or Kate, and Bianca. Katharina, the titular shrew, has a harsh temper and refuses to consider marrying any man, and sweet and sought-after Bianca cannot marry until her sister does.
Rosie Ouellet ’15 portrays Lucentio, one of Bianca’s suitors.
“[The show is] only different in that I have to pretend to be a guy,” Ouellet said. “We did some movement workshops in the rehearsal process and I tend to drop my voice a bit. Costuming was a bit more difficult, but nothing about what I actually do onstage is all that different from any other show I’ve been in.”
Jongeward is manipulating more than just gender, though, in Shakespeare’s play.
“I am trying to find the comedy and happy ending in the Kate and Petruchio plot. I am finding the not-so-happy in the Bianca and Lucentio plot line,” Jongeward said. “Petruchio never hits Kate [in this staging]. This play is over 400 years old, so I’m sure each one of these things has shown up in one production or another.”
Jongeward said her staging of the play comes from her desire to examine the effect of cross-gender casting on a play.
“How can a director use it to shape the audience’s perceptions? Shrew is the most gendered play in the canon, so it was the obvious choice,” Jongeward said. “It is certainly not my favorite play, or even my favorite comedy, but it is a challenge. How do I make a relationship I’ve always found uncomfortable work? Is it even possible? I really hope so, because my grade is riding on it.”