The Taming of the Shrew, presented by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago, Illinois, 23 April 2010.

M. G. Aune, Desiree Helterbran and Brandon Zebrowski
California University of Pennsylvania

M. G. Aune, Desiree Helterbran and Brandon Zebrowski. “Review of The Taming of the Shrew, presented by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago, Illinois, 23 April 2010." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.2 (2010-11): 16.1-9 <URL:>

Directed by Josie Rourke.  New induction scenes by Neil LaBute. Scenic and Costume Design by Lucy Osborne. Sound Design and Original Music by Lindsay Jones.  Lighting Design by Philip Rosenberg. With William Dick (The Stage Manager), Mary Beth Fisher (The Director), Ian Bedford (Petruchio), Bianca Amato (Katharina/Angela), Katherine Cunningham (Bianca/Jjasmine), Sean Fortunato (Hortensio), Mike Nussbaum (Gremio), Erik Hellman (Lucentio), Brian Sills (Tranio), Larry Yando (Baptista), Stephen Ouimette (Grumio), Matthew Sherbach (Curtis), Scott Merchant (Joseph), Terry Hamilton (Nathaniel), Sean Driscoll (Gregory), Steven Pringle (Pedant), Tim Gittings (Tailor), Marc Grapey (Vincentio), and Karen Janes Woditsch (Widow).



  1. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater invited guest director Josie Rourke (Artistic Director of London’s Bush Theatre) to offer the third production of Taming of the Shrew in its twenty-four year history.  At the center of the production is a conventional tights-and-doublets staging of the play.  But rather than the Christopher Sly induction, playwright/director/screenwriter Neil LaBute wrote a new, metatheatrical frame that revealed the sexual politics behind this staging of Taming of the Shrew.  This new induction not only framed Shrew, but also regularly intruded on the narrative, mostly for comic effect.  The first half of the play was constructed as a technical rehearsal, complete with interruptions from the Stage Manager, Director, and stagehands as they attempted to prepare for the play’s debut.  In the course of these disruptions (and the first three acts of Shrew), the audience learned that Angela and the unnamed Director were long time romantic partners and collaborators.  The two had done numerous successful plays together, each of which triggered turbulent arguments and passionate reconciliations.  The technical rehearsal proceeded through the wedding scene in 3.2, which the Director interrupted in order to humiliate Angela by directing spotlights to her rear end.

  2. The second half of the play took place on the play’s opening night, several days after the first.  It began with the Director appearing on stage to speak to the audience and stall for time while a backstage crisis was resolved.  Though she began talking about the production of Shrew, she quickly digressed into a description of her relationship with Angela and its discontents.  After this self-humiliating monologue concluded, Shrew proceeded.  The second half of Shrew continued without interruption by the frame, until the very end.  Katharina concluded her speech in 5.2, lying face down with her hand palm up.  But when a startled Petruchio declared, “Kiss me Kate!” she stood up and shouted, “You kiss him!  Fuck this!” to the Director, and stormed off stage. 

  3. The new frame seemed intended, as the Director instructed Angela, “to attack the clichés head on” and in so doing to resolve the misogyny embedded in Shrew or at least to highlight and expose it.  The attack relied on an essentially traditional production of Shrew that was regularly subverted by the characterizations of the frame, its metatheatrical humor, and the shifting relationship between character and costume.

  4. Although gender definitions were blurred, subtle differences in costuming helped reinforce gender controversies within Shakespeare’s andocentric plot and serve as a catalyst for LaBute’s exploration and expression of gender identity in the frame.  Constant references to the importance of dress, created a tension between costume and character that later expanded to create strain between character and person.  Costuming also acted as a channel for actors to communicate character and plot developments as the play progressed.  As costuming changed, so did the actors within the frame.   

  5. Variegated costuming encouraged the audience to categorize characters based on shared motivation.  The clothing of Baptista, Petruchio, and Hortensio shared a dominant black color with gold accents.  This resemblance occurred in every piece from the fur upon their cloaks to the stitching on their oversized codpieces.  The three men not only shared a color palette but a wholehearted desire to see Katharina wed and their common goal achieved.  The audience was lead back to a key question presented in LaBute’s frame (and the omitted Induction): Do the clothes make the person?  Or, more accurately, can clothing change internal identity?  Similarly, the identical apparel of Pedant and Vincentio playfully challenged the audience to disassociate “an apple [from] an oyster” (4.2) once both men were present in matching emerald clothing. 

  6. LaBute’s induction mirrored Shakespeare’s by presenting malleable characters.  Since the actors were running a technical rehearsal rather than a dress rehearsal (in the first half of the play), full costuming was unnecessary.  Full costuming later became present after intermission, separating LaBute’s contribution to the play’s beginning from the remainder of the initial and added text.  It also signaled to the audience that the setting had changed from a technical rehearsal to opening night.  Just as Christopher Sly, a poor drunkard, changes into an affluent, educated gentleman in Shakespeare’s Induction, the actors within LaBute’s text transformed from half-costumed production members to the true characters of The Taming of the Shrew.  Yet, it is clear that some actors related more closely to their characters than others. 

  7. The extent to which the actors accepted their characters’ personalities revealed the roles they played within LaBute’s frame. Leather, for example, was a principal material in both of Petruchio’s outfits.  The actor playing Petruchio came to the technical rehearsal wearing a black leather jacket and boots that emphasized the masculinity of both actor and character.  As Petruchio, he sported a black leather vest rather than a jacket.  The actor playing Gremio related entirely to his character, who was a prepared and confident older man.  He was in costume throughout the modernized induction.  Conversely, Angela/Katharina wore a black tank top and the bottom half of Katharina’s dress when tech rehearsal began.  There was no indication that she wore or possessed a cap until her obedient response to Petruchio’s command in Act 5 Scene 2.  She reluctantly produced it with humble, submissive characteristics as her performance as Katharina became clearly insincere.  She ultimately rejected the role of Katharina by ripping off the top piece of her costume in the final scene and abandoning the production.  Another actor who outwardly opposed being linked to her character was Jjasmine, “with two ‘j’s’.”  When the Director called her Bianca she defiantly replied, “That’s my character, not my name.”  The push and pull between character and person created by LaBute’s frame attached an appealing struggle between parallel plots of this Taming of the Shrew.

  8. The costuming made an honest attempt to illustrate both the text and the frame’s gender struggles, but the comedy often subordinated these struggles.  The text’s humor was often magnified as if to eclipse the complexities of its gender roles.  All of the play’s key moments that could have been used to present some sort of gender definition were used rather for laughs, sometimes to good effect, but other times to absurdity.  The “knock me here” dispute that introduces Petruchio and Grumio (1.2) deteriorated into little more than a catfight, not the illustration of Petruchio’s masculinity and superiority it may have been.  Petruchio did not simply wear “mean apparel” (3.2) on his wedding day, but rather dressed in drag, complete with a wedding dress and bottomless chaps.  The result was not a humiliated Katharina, but, ironically, a shrieking audience and a humiliated Petruchio.  The codpieces added some constancy to this comedy, as they were always present and impossible to ignore.  And the paradoxical comedy of Grumio’s sporting the largest of these codpieces was exhausted when Petruchio asked extratextually, “Why is his bigger?” 

  9. In addition to the use of comedy to dilute the misogyny was the metatheatrical frame, which actually became the primary plot, forcing The Shrew into a secondary position.  The homosexual relationship between Angela and the Director paralleled the relationship between Katharina and Petruchio.  This frame may have been more effective had it not been taken quite as far.  Not only did this relationship between actor and director overshadow the relationship between Shakespeare’s characters, Shrew itself was left unfinished.  Angela’s storming off the stage at the play’s end settled the tension between actor and director, but it left unresolved the relationship between Katharina and Petruchio.  Perhaps this is no different than an interpolation having Katharina and Petruchio presented as working cooperatively in this final scene to win the wager, or having Katharina’s speech given in a sarcastic and unauthentic tone, in that it subverts the misogyny of this scene.  However, the undeniable difference between the two is that interpolations do not avoid the final scene, but rather they interpret it.  There is little interpretation in omission.



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© 2011-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).