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In 1633, the first time John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed, also sometimes known as The Woman’s Prize, was performed alongside its predecessor, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the British lord Sir Henry Herbert wrote that audiences “liked” the Bard’s play, but that Fletcher’s sequel was “very well liked.” And if Shakespeare in Clark Park’s presentation of both in a two-act performance, titled The Taming!, is any indication, that sentiment holds true nearly 400 years later.
Tackling the text
Shrew is a difficult play. It begins with a framing device that manages to be simultaneously one of Shakespeare’s funniest scenes and one of his most pointless (thus its excision from The Taming!), and some of its characters demonstrate misogyny that rivals recent comments by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz. Still, much of the play is funny, if not downright charming, and feminist defenses of the work abound. Katherine (Kira Player) is a brilliant, argumentative, proto-feminist. She is also, by the end of the play, uncomfortably submissive to her husband, Petruchio (Jo Vito Ramírez in Shrew and J. Hernandez in Tamed), the proto-“f boy.”
Katherine’s younger sister Bianca (Minou Pourshariati in both works) is sweet and dutiful, but also proves herself to be intelligent and strong-willed. Their father, Baptista (Brian Anthony Wilson) is both wary of the intentions of his younger daughter’s suitors and eager to marry his elder daughter off to whoever will have her. If there is any moral to The Taming of the Shrew, it is that no matter how difficult or submissive, how willful or passive, how shrewish or angelic, women will not win.
And then there’s The Tamer Tamed. As the title suggests, Fletcher’s work presents a sort of karmic comeuppance for Petruchio, 20 years after the original events. Widowed in the original text but divorced in this adaptation by Charlotte Northeast and West Philly community members, Petruchio’s new bride, Maria (the excellent Donovan Lockett) conspires with her cousin Bianca to give her husband a taste of his own medicine. What results is Lysistrata in lace ruffs (or, in The Taming!, in Ralph Lauren—this production is set in the 90s): a work that argues, effectively, that husbands do not have any more right to their wives’ bodies than they do to anyone else’s. Although this later work was, for a long time, more popular than its predecessor, it’s not known nearly as well today. Perhaps it should be.
Two plays, both alike in dignity (but not much else)
If Shakespeare in Clark Park audiences are meant to see the ideas of the second work as more modern than the ideas of the first, then it’s made easy by the contrast between The Taming of the Shrew and The Tamer Tamed, which comprise the first and second acts of The Taming!, respectively.
Under the direction of Kathryn MacMillan, the Shrew half of the production is straightforward, competent, and uncomplicated. The original text is edited for length, but the language remains Shakespeare’s—Elizabethan and occasionally inscrutable. And then a dance medley of wedding hits from the 1970s through the 1990s cleverly conveys for the audience the passing of 20 years and we find ourselves at the start of Northeast’s adaptation of Tamed, dropped into a world of modern prose instead of archaic verse.
Though this half of The Taming!, directed by Angela Bey, still contains plenty of Fletcher’s original verse, it feels like the point from the outset is to evolve the text rather than to regress to comfortable old ideas. The actors have more breathing room, more chances to ad lib (including two fantastic moments in the performance I saw from Morgan Charéce Hall, who plays Livia, Maria’s cousin), more opportunities to call upon modern themes and visuals, as in a stirringly familiar protest scene.
Though the audience clearly enjoyed Shrew, they were downright delighted by Tamed. And at a time when misogyny is once again being codified into law, who can blame them for preferring the play that challenges the patriarchy to the one that would seem to uphold it?
Two tips for the audience
The Taming! is nearly three hours long—which is quite a long time to sit on the ground at Clark Park, no matter how fluffy your picnic blanket is. I strongly recommend bringing beach chairs to allow you to focus on the play, not your posterior.
And because it is being staged in an outdoor public space, there are a lot of distracting sounds around the playing space (plus, during the production I saw, several of the actors’ microphones stopped working). To ensure that you’ll be able to hear everything, you might try getting to Clark Park early to snag a spot as close to the stage as possible.
What, When, Where
The Taming! By William Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew), directed by Kathryn MacMillan; and John Fletcher (The Tamer Tamed), adapted by Charlotte Northeast and West Philly community members, directed by Angela Bey. Free, with an optional donation. Through July 31, 2022, at “The Bowl” in Clark Park, near the intersection of 43rd Street and Chester Avenue (indoor rain location: the Prince Theater at Penn Live Arts, 3680 Walnut Street). (215) 764-5345 or shakespeareinclarkpark.org.
Shakespeare in Clark Park allows guests to reserve space in an area for vaccinated patrons only. If the show moves to the rain location, proof of Covid-19 vaccination will be required to enter.
Patrons with mobility challenges may find it difficult to access this sloped and grassy performance space. Portable seats are recommended.
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