Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

The 2010 Stratford Festival: Kiss Me, Kate and the Two Gentlemen of Verona

Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

The 2010 Stratford Festival: Kiss Me, Kate and the Two Gentlemen of Verona

Article excerpt

The Stratford Festival of Canada (or at least, its directors) knows who comes to watch its plays: theater lovers. With Kiss Me, Kate and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Stratford Festival played to its strengths by highlighting the theatrical and metatheatrical. Director John Doyle saw Kiss Me, Kate as an opportunity to explore "vaudevillian musical theatre" on a thrust stage. (1) Director Dean Gabourie based his production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona on George Bernard Shaw's description of the play as "not exactly a comic opera, though there is plenty of music in it, and not exactly a serpentine dance, though it proceeds under a play of changing colored lights. It is something more old-fashioned than either: to wit, a vaudeville." (2) Although both performances were set in similar time periods and both presented backstage peeks into life at the theater, Kiss Me, Kate was one of the flagship musicals performed in the large Festival Theatre from mid-April until October 30, 2010, whereas The Two Gentlemen of Verona was presented in the more intimate Studio Theatre and only ran from July 30 to September 19, 2010. The Two Gentlemen of Verona was the first Shakespeare play to be staged in the small Studio Theatre, perhaps because, as Anne Barton puts it, this play "has the unenviable distinction of being the least loved and least regarded of Shakespeare's comedies." (3) Gabourie's production proved that Shakespeare's early comedy deserves reconsideration and that it can be just as entertaining for audiences as a twentieth-century musical.

"Another op'nin', another show," sings Hattie, played by Keisha T. Fraser. She is soon joined by the rest of the cast as they sing the opening number to Cole Porter's most famous musical, Kiss Me, Kate. Written by Sam and Bella Spewack, Kiss Me, Kate is about a theater company staging The Taming of the Shrew. The director of the play within a play, Fred Graham (Juan Chioran), was formerly married to the star of the play, Lilli Vanessi (Monique Lund). Graham not only directs the show, he performs the role of Petruchio opposite Vanessi's Katherine. Graham's role as both Petruchio and director is not far from Shakespeare's version: Petruchio attempts to direct Katherine by controlling her clothes, her speech, her sleep, and her food.

Graham's inset production of The Taming of the Shrew in some ways mirrors Pyramus and Thisbe, the play within a play that the rude mechanicals perform in A Midsummer Night's Dream. As in Pyramus and Thisbe, in which the mechanicals perform the roles of Wall and Moonlight, in Graham's Shrew, some of the cast perform inanimate objects, most memorably, a lit-up caricatured statue of the Virgin Mary, anachronistically wearing a wristwatch. In both cases, the actors are woefully unprepared: Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun are merely nightclub performers. Chilina Kennedy, as Lois, complained of the difficulty of deciphering Shakespeare's "thees and thous." Kennedy's portrayal of Lois's Bianca (pronounced with a New York accent: Bee-YANK-ah) was a hilarious combination of overly declamatory lines, bad recitation of iambic pentameter, and broad physical actions to illustrate her words. Although Kennedy's Bianca clearly could not act, Kennedy herself was the highlight of the show, with her dancing, singing, and flirting with the audience.

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Doyle, the director of Stratford's production, never let his audience forget the performed and constructed nature of theater. His Shakespearean performers engaged in inept stage fighting, said "whisper whisper whisper," and brushed against scenery that was clearly made of canvas. These moments earned some of the biggest laughs from Stratford's audience, some of whom have presumably seen their share of amateur Shakespearean performances. The set (designed by David Farley), although built on the thrust stage of the Festival Theatre, suggested three proscenium arches, perhaps intended to capture the three levels of theater within this play: the play within a play, Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew; the lives of the actors and the action of Kiss Me, Kate; and the intentional breaking of the fourth wall that commented on both the other levels. …

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