"The Taming of the Shrew" Meets The Spaghetti Western
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
"The Taming of the Shrew" is Shakespeare's epic battle of the sexes, and in this Wild West production, the verbal sparring is accompanied by whisky shots, gunshots and music. It's the story of the wooing or corralling of wildcat Kate by the only man around who cares. He is in studio in a tie, which is why I'm laughing (word?) because...
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
...he doesn't look like Petruchio right now. He waxes poetic about his intended bride. She's rich, and she's, well, rich. But when Kate and Petruchio looked into each other's eyes, it's clear this is not just a comedy. This is a love story, one which takes place offstage as well because the actors who play Kate and Petruchio are, in fact, a couple in real life. They join us in studio. Kate Eastwood Norris is an actress. She's currently playing Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew." Good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
MS. KATE EASTWOOD NORRIS
Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here.
With us is Cody Nickell. He performs Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew." Why the tie today? Just threw me off completely.
MR. CODY NICKELL
I had no -- I woke up, and I thought, you know what I'm going to do today, is put this tie on. I don't really -- rarely -- I rarely wear ties but...
He's an actor dandy. He wears tie all the time.
Occasionally, I'm an actor. Occasionally, I'm an actor dandy. It's...
I'm thinking of him in the gun belt and...
Yeah, the gun belt.
...gun at the hip them and stuff, and he shows up and in this tie. It's not the same guy, except for the beard.
Joining us by phone from Pittsfield, Mass., is Aaron Posner. He is a Helen Hayes Award-winning director. He adapted and directed the production of "The Taming of the Shrew," currently at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Aaron Posner, thank you for joining us.
MR. AARON POSNER
It's my pleasure. Hello.
If you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8550. Cody, for those of us who might not remember the play, remind us of the story of "The Taming of the Shrew."
"The Taming of the Shrew," there are two women, Kate and Bianca. And they -- Bianca is the younger of the two sisters, and she is being courted by a number of men. And their father, Baptista in the original script, but in our production, mother, Baptista has decided that Bianca cannot get married until she finds a husband for the older sister Kate.
And Kate is known around town as the shrew, and everyone thinks it's impossible that she could be ever be wooed and courted. And then this cat, Petruchio, shows up, and he decides to take this challenge on and wants to wed wealthily. And she -- Kate falls within that category certainly. And then, once they meet, he, I think, has a -- sees -- takes a shine to her right away. And then he begins the taming process, and then high jinks ensue.
Well, Kate, this is a battle of the sexes. What is your version of how Petruchio wins you?
He wins me, first of all, because he's the only person who doesn't run away when I come towards him.
This is true.
In fact, he comes towards me, which never happened.
Frankly, I almost ran out of the theater, but that's another story.
So, you know, just sticking around is a really good start, and then, also, there's a certain magnetism about him. I think Petruchio is an outcast much like Kate. They're both eccentric and don't necessarily belong in the world that is around them. And so that's also enticing. And there's, of course, the starving and lack of sleep and all the things that we try not to talk about.
But the main reason he tames me is because I fall in love with him. And love does amazingly illogical, wondrous things.
Well, is Kate is wooed -- or perhaps a better word as we said earlier is corralled by Petruchio, who is played by your real-life husband Cody. What's it like playing a couple on stage?
It's great. I love it. It's really natural. I mean, we're obviously arguing and in circumstances that we're not normally in, but there's a definite trust there. And we're definitely playing. And it's very easy to love someone when you actually do. And I've spent a lot of time loving people I don't on stage in this case. It's -- I think it's great. The only problem is sometimes we're a little too comfortable with each other when, in fact, these characters have just met. So I'm finding that's the big obstacle to overcome.
You'll know that they are a real husband and wife couple when you see how Petruchio responds after he extends his hand to Kate and what she does to his hand. I won't give that away, but you'll know they've got to be a real -- you met Cody while playing in a Shakespeare production, and you were also a couple in that show. Talk about that.
Yes. We met on an Aaron Posner production, actually, in Shakespeare Santa Cruz about six years ago, of "As You Like It." And we were playing Rosalind, Orlando, and they're the love interests in that show. And we'd -- I had never met Kate before, and I had not ever worked with Aaron before, though Kate had previously worked with him. And that is, in fact, where love blossomed and...
Aaron claims that he's responsible for our marriage, don't you, (word?) ?
Are you, Aaron?
Well, in the sense that -- not -- I won't take full responsibility (unintelligible) marriage.
In the sense that when I was casting the show, this production of "As You Like It" -- and I had worked with Kate a lot, and I knew her well. And we had cast her as Rosalind. And I knew that finding the right chemistry between a Rosalind and Orlando was really, really important. And the artistic director of the theater wanted me to cast another very good actor, who actually was in the production, a terrific guy, but didn't have what I felt would be the right chemistry.
And I did argue quite strongly for finding a different kind of guy that was a combination of rough and humble and charming and delightful. And I argued strongly for this guy, Cody Nickell, who I had met up in Oregon during a workshop of another play. And so I did make a strong argument that I believed that this would be a couple on stage that would make sense and that would create the right kind of tension, the right kind of spark, the right kind of energy.
So, in that sense -- and then, you know, when I decided to do "Taming of the Shrew," the first thing I did after we decided that the Folger -- that "Shrew" was something we were going to do, the first decision we made was to go to Kate and Cody and say, you know, do you guys want to be at the center of this thing?
That's interesting. How did that decision help to shape the show?
Well, it shaped it very centrally because it is a problematic -- you know, when Shakespeare wrote it 400 years ago, he wasn't trying to write a battle of the sexes, you know, play in quite the same way. He was, but he wasn't thinking of it as problematic. He was thinking of it as a goofy comedy on the Commedia dell'Arte style. It's really become more complex as the world has changed.
And I knew that if we were going to really raise interesting questions and challenge people in their assumptions and sort of engage with this question of why and how people can fall in love in these kind of difficult circumstances, I knew we had to have a complex and interesting and dynamic relationship at the center. And I knew that I could get that with Kate and Cody.
We're talking about the production of "The Taming of the Shrew" currently at the Folger Shakespeare Theater and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you ever seen "The Taming of the Shrew?" What do you think it says about men and women? Aaron, why did you choose to set your production in a saloon in the Wild West in the 1880s?
Well, I can give all sorts of interesting intellectual reasons for it. But probably it had more to do with the fact that my wife and I were watching "Deadwood" at the same time as I was watching -- you know, as I was thinking about the play...
...and fell in love with "Deadwood," the intense poetry. Although it's a very profane poetry, there's an incredible poetry of the language. And there is a situation in that world, in that Old West world, which I've always loved, that has very limited options for women, that had -- where money really counts, where lawlessness -- where rules are still being figured out. So there were just a lot of equivalents between the dynamic and the energy of the story that Shakespeare was writing and the sort of dynamics of the time and place.
I felt it turned into a what -- I thought it would be a fun decision. I felt secure that it was a great decision the first time the guns were drawn in rehearsal. And we add to the sort of volatility of people carrying firearms to an already powder keg situation on stage, and it feels like it goes together really nicely, I think.
Well, I was telling Kate and Cody before the show it reminded me of my own favorite, much older Western, "Johnny Guitar," with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden and Ernest Borgnine, much of which took place in a saloon. Got to watch it. Here's Desiree (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Desiree, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
Hi. I just wanted to say I saw the production about a -- I guess it was about two weeks ago, and it was absolutely amazing. It was funny. It was -- you know, I felt -- I engaged emotionally with the characters, and it was just really beautiful. So I wanted to say thank you for that and encourage anyone that can go see it, please, do.
OK. Thank you very much for your call, Desiree. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. I endorse your sentiments. Aaron -- I mean, Cody, how did you approach playing a character who has, well, just a lot of swagger, an amazing amount of swagger?
So much of that was accomplished by the costuming. As soon as I put Helen Huang's costumes on, I felt that the swagger just jumped right out of me.
It's been my dream to play a cowboy since, you know, I've been doing this. And Aaron has afforded me that chance in this production, and I'm very thankful for it. But I think a trick with Petruchio -- and Aaron and I talked about this much throughout the rehearsal process -- is that it would -- it's easy to make him too sure of himself or -- Aaron used the word superhuman, where he has all the answers, and all the answers work all the time.
And we wanted to craft a character that was both sure of himself and was able to still have doubts about what was happening, and so he needed to invest more. And I enjoy playing characters that are sure of themselves, but I also enjoy making them complex and not just someone who has all the answers, who gets what he wants very easily. And I think Aaron did a really good job of helping me craft that kind of character.
Kate, at one point in this show, you hogtie Bianca, your sister in the play. It's my understanding that that was your inspiration.
Oh, yeah. As soon as I thought -- heard of the Old West, I immediately thought of Calamity Jane and that I would wear pants and have a gun and have a horse. And, unfortunately, I don't have the horse. But I was thinking, what would I -- I'm a practical woman. I'm out there doing things. I'm not embroidering in the parlor. So I'm probably really good at things like corralling cattle and hogtying. So it seemed natural for me to hogtie my sister rather than pull her braids or something more girly like that.
And, Aaron, you decided to include a musician in the show, Cliff Eberhardt. Tell us about what you wanted to add with that choice.
Well, I feel like music adds a lot to plays just in general and to Shakespeare, and Shakespeare uses a lot of music in shows, although not as graphically as much in "Taming of the Shrew." There's a lot of moments of psychological complexity that Shakespeare wasn't dealing with as much that we sort of want. I wanted people to have some access to sort of the underbelly of things, and music can often accomplish that in really wonderful ways. Cliff Eberhardt has been one of my favorite singer-songwriters.
I think I heard a song of his on the radio 20-something years ago, literally, and have been listening to him regularly all the time, have all of his CDs. So he's somebody that I've just loved his music. And he writes a lot about love and a lot about difficult love and a lot about broken and twisty and challenging love. And all of those things just -- I just think he's brilliant. I think it adds so much to the production.
And so from the time we had this sort of "Deadwood" idea, it was actually Janet Griffin at the Folger, the artistic producer there who -- I had given her Cliff Eberhardt's music for a different show at another time that didn't work out. And when I had this idea about this "Deadwood"-inspired "Shrew," she immediately went, how about Cliff Eberhardt? And I went, yes. And we got in touch with Cliff and were just really fortunate to get his -- not only his music into the show but him performing in the show every night. It adds a tremendous amount...
Let's listen to one of the songs from the play. This one is called "Someone Like You."
Cliff Eberhardt. The CD is called "Shrew Songs: Music for the Taming of the Shrew." "The Taming of the Shrew" is playing through June 10 at the Folger Shakespeare Theater here in D.C. Here is Marilyn in Silver Spring, Md. Marilyn, your turn.
From Silver Spring. Yes.
Yes. Go ahead, Marilyn.
I just thought this was the greatest production of a Shakespeare that I've ever seen other than a "Hamlet" one a couple years ago. But I'm an elderly senior citizen. I've studied Shakespeare all my life and brought up with the classic productions, and I usually don't like a change. And this is one of the greatest ones. I've been in amateur theater and done costumes. And I did it for (unintelligible), and this is superior because it all blends. The costumes, the scenery, the jokes, the true lines, everything blends so beautifully that I'm going to see it a second time.
Aaron Posner, this has got music. It's got dancing. The tone is something of a departure in how this play has often been staged. What do you say to Marilyn?
Well, I'm thrilled that she likes it so much. Shakespeare is a full, is a -- you know, is a smorgasbord. Shakespeare wants to be a sort of a full-service banquet for -- that's a terrible mixed metaphor, but, you know...
(unintelligible) sort of every -- it provides a lot of different ways in. You know, I hope -- what I hope is that people not only enjoy this, but we've had some people who, you know, found it very objectionable, found the ending of the play -- people have been finding this play objectionable for years. And I hope that not only what we do is entertain and have it be a delightfully good time, but I hope people do leave sort of thinking about or arguing about or discussing sort of the dynamic of the relationship 'cause we try to bring that energy into it as well (unintelligible).
Well, here's Maria on that very subject in Bethesda, Md. Maria, could you speak in 30 seconds or less?
Yes. The (unintelligible) believes that it is Kate who actually tamed Petruchio. Do you have any comment about that? Do you think this is plausible?
Kate, how do you feel about that? You're the one who tames Petruchio.
Well, I think that, in a certain production, that could definitely be highlighted. I do. I think, in this case, we sort of tame each other. The focus is on me. And I tried in this circumstance to be someone who needed help in order to get a "taming."
But I do see how that is possible. There's many, many ways to do this show.
A lot of possibilities in this show. Kate Eastwood Norris is currently playing Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew." Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you so much.
Cody Nickell is playing Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew." Cody, thank you for wearing the tie.
Oh, thank you so much.
Aaron Posner is a Helen Hayes Award-winning director. He adapted and directed this production of "Taming of the Shrew." It's currently at the Folger Shakespeare Theater through June 10. Aaron Posner, thank you for joining us.
And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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