It's a balmy June evening in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Couples are stretching languidly and chatting on the green-green grassy knoll near the Swan Pond at Millersville University, as the sun plays hide and seek with the moon. Love is in the air--and in the voices of a pair of troubadours entertaining the spectators who are unhrriedly awaiting the opening lines of a "spaghetti western" version of William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" presented by the People's Shakespeare Project 2014.
Sure, there are going to be complications. It is a Shakespearean "problematic comedy," a mix of characters and situations during which everything seems topsy-turvy. What's this abourt "taming" a woman? Isn't that a terrible case of "machismo?" Perhaps. But the action takes place before women's rights, when a lady had to defend herself with other weapons. And after the laughter dies out we inevitably begin to think about issues that concern men and women today.
OK. Maybe you are a bit sour on the classics. But under the direction of Laura Korach Howell there Shakespeare's lines are said with an enchanting Texan accent and the characters from Padua are dressed in cowboy fashion! That in itself is good for a prolonged applause and a horse laugh, because the actors go from 1700th century English to modern day Texan drawl with astonishing facility.
What's the story? Well Lucentio arrives accompanied by his servant, Tranio and falls head over heals in love with a mother's youngest daughter, Bianca--who due to her beauty and gentle ways already has two suitors and the possibility of receiving a generous dawry. There's a catch. The mother, Baptista, will not allow Bianca to marry until Katherine, her oldest and a very bad humored daughter is married. That could give way to a dramatic situation. But Shakespeare skillfully treats it as a comedy.
To break the stalemate, he introduces Petruchio, a young man bent on landing a wealthy wife. Why not take up the challenge of "taming" the shrew (Katherine) and collecting a very respectable dowry? There is strick logic to the script. Bianca's suitors are dying to help get the shrew married. So disguises abound as Hotensio and Lucentio pose as tutors to get close to Bianca. Tranio dresses as Lucentio and the Merchant as Vincentio, Lucentio's father.
To clench things, the real Vincentio appears on the scene amidst complete chaos. And out of chaos order, or a sort of evening out of loose ends. There is even what you might call a happy ending, but that depends on how you understand the series of confusing events.
The People's Shakespeare Project deserves a round of applause for recreating Shakespeare's play with great fidelity to the text and the vision Shakespeare had of theatre, while at the same time updating the show with the introduction of the accent and a western setting.
More information on the Project is available at http://www.peoplesshakespeareproject.org Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.