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The All-Female Shakespeare Production Turning the Theater World Upside Down

The All-Female Shakespeare Production Turning the Theater World Upside Down

By Fiona Shaw

Four centuries ago, professional Shakespeare performances had all-male casts — no women allowed. This summer, the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of "Taming of the Shrew" flips that history on its head.

Shakespeare's witty "battle of the sexes" "The Taming of the Shrew" — an exciting and tumultuous play — gives most of the best lines to the tamer, Petruchio, a man who comes to "wive it wealthily in Padua." If it is a battle of language, he has a Kalashnikov, and Katherina, the shrew, a peashooter. This summer the Public Theater will present an all-female production of "The Taming of the Shrew" for its annual free Shakespeare in the Park series, in New York City's Central Park, commemorating the 400 years since Shakespeare's death. But with no men in the cast, how will the sparks be seen to fly? Director Phyllida Lloyd (famous for her all-female assaults on Shakespeare on both sides of the Atlantic, most notably "Henry IV" and "Julius Caesar"), has worked with the wonderful actresses Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer before, and I long to hear the combustion of the vibrant Jumbo’s Katherina capitulating to the tall, lordly swagger of McTeer's Petruchio.

"To be invited to the Park — the greatest free Shakespeare festival in the world — is a great honor, and I don't take it lightly," says Lloyd. "Our heroes and heroines stand before us! Our secret weapon? Some of the finest and funniest female clowns on the scene. We will be turning the play upside down."

For me, the center of the play is the last speech. Kathe­rina, once tamed, holds us with an aria of freedom through deference to husbands: "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper." It suggests it's better to be in a marriage than out in the cold … Beautiful but complex. Well, that was then! We will, no doubt, be encouraged to draw new conclusions, and that's what theater is for.

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Photo Credit: Andrew Eccles