by Gail M. Burns, July, 2005.
Down in the field behind the Founders’ Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, under a big white tent, sits the Rose Footprint Playhouse. Someday the company hopes to build an historically accurate replica of the Rose Theatre there. In the meantime the Rose Footprint serves as home to free summer time entertainments in the popular Bankside Festival.
Built in 1587 by Philip Henslowe, the Rose was only the fifth purpose-built theatre in London and the first to be built on the Bankside where it was later joined by the Swan (1595) and the Globe (1599). Plays by Shakespeare and Marlowe were performed there before it was abandoned in 1606. Its remains were unearthed in 1989 and ten years later the site was opened to the public. Shakespeare & Company’s plans to build a replica are stalled at the moment while the company restructures its finances, but what stands in the meadow is a fascinating glimpse at what theatre was four hundred years ago, and what it may be again.
This summer the main attraction on the Rose Footprint is a production of a shortened version of John Fletcher’s 1611 comedy The Tamer Tamed which is a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Though no small coincidence, that play is being performed this summer at the Founders’ Theatre, so you can go directly from a 5:30 pm performance of Tamer to a 7:30 pm performance of Shrew with a short stop to grab a snack at Josie;s Café and watch some of the other free outdoor merriment that is being offered up. The evening I saw The Tamer Tamed I emerged from under the tent to find Stephen James Anderson as Launce and his noble dog Tree Bear as Crabbe performing an amusing scene from The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
By some accounts Fletcher (1579-1625), the author of more than 50 plays best known for his theatrical collaborations with Francis Beaumont, wrote The Tamer Tamed as a way of introducing himself to Shakespeare. The trick seems to have worked because the two collaborated on Henry VIII, Cardenio, and The Two Noble Kinsmen.
In The Tamer Tamed we find Petruchio (Tom Wells) widowed. Kate the Shrew has died and he has just remarried to her cousin, Maria (Catherine Taylor-Williams). From the moment they exit the church on their wedding day until the final moments of the play, Maria conducts a concentrated attack designed to “tame” Petruchio in an even harsher manner than he “tamed” Kate. She is aided in this endeavor by her cousin, Kate’s sister, Bianca (Sarah Taylor) recently widowed. Together they convince Maria’s naïve younger sister Livia (Julie Webster) to join them. Maria and Livia’s father Petronius (Robert Lohbauer) has betrothed Livia to the aged Gremio (Jeffrey Kent) although she pines for the young and handsome minstrel Rowland (David Their).
Soon all the women of the town have joined Maria, Bianca and Livia in their Amazonian effort. They barricade themselves in Petruchio’s house and refuse the men sex. Petruchio’s hapless friends Tranio (Sasha Brätt) and Hortensio (Zachary Green) are whacked with sausages and have chamber pots emptied over their heads. Comic servants Grumio (Ann Viera) and Pedro (Renée Margaret Speltz) run amok. A milkmaid (Gillian Hurst) stubbornly pulls her creaky stuffed cow about the theatre while another city wife (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan) blows sarcastic kisses from the turrets of Petruchio’s house.
It is your basic battle of the sexes circa 1611. It is amusing to see what remains the same and what has changed in men and women’s perception of each other and their relationships. You can see why our Puritan ancestors with their rigid moral code and drab lifestyle fled in horror from this England (remember that the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock a scant nine years after this play was written). Our American tradition, rooted soundly in this far more structured and less entertaining tradition, could do with having a chamber pot or two dumped over its head.
If there is a theme to this play in director Michael Burnet’s adaptation it is that Women Rule and Men Drool. The ladies definitely have all the fun while the fellows are frustrated, cuckolded, duped, dumped, and thwacked at every opportunity. The cast represents a wide range of acting experience, from full-fledged Company members to recent high school graduates who have participated in Shakespeare & Company’s educational programs. Everyone acquits themselves well, but it is easy to see who the pros are.
Catherine Taylor-Williams is a natural leading lady who commands the stage. Her Maria is funny and sexy and you wonder why Wells’ Petruchio doesn’t just say, “Sure, honey, whatever you want” and be happy. Despite his festive codpiece (why don’t modern men go about with purple ribbons festooning false protrusions manhood??) Wells is a kind of a wimpy Petruchio. If I were Maria I might set my sights on someone studlier. But it is certainly easy to believe that he is ultimately tamed.
Taylor and Webster are very beautiful young women, and everyone looks just great (though definitely overheated) in Sarah Hilliard’s sumptuous costumes. They both give lively performances. Remember that there is no artificial lighting to make cheeks look rosy or put a sparkle in the eye. The glow these young ladies display is nature’s own.
Lohbauer and Kent are stalwart representatives of the older generation, while Viera and Speltzsteal many scenes with their comedic bits. Frankly, all Speltz has to do is walk on stage in that sombrero and fake moustache and you start laughing. She must be having the time of her life. There are few enough roles for women of “a certain age” let alone opportunities for them to play 17th century Spanish peasants.
The whole affair runs an hour and a quarter and is very silly. Take the whole family. Do not worry if your knowledge of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama is a little rusty. It is great fun to see a lively production of a play from this era that isn’t written by William Shakespeare (no offense, Will, but your plays are kind of done to death after four centuries, you know what I mean?)
You will be under cover so there is no need to bring a hat or sunscreen, and chairs and benches are provided. If rain threatens you will want an umbrella to get from the parking lot down to the tent. But by all means slather on plenty of your favorite insect repellent because you will have plenty of company under the tent. The actors must have to work very hard to ignore the audience members who suddenly leap up swatting at mosquitoes. I personally found a ladybug in my cleavage, which seemed very Elizabethan.
The Tamer Tamed basically plays every Thursday and Saturday at 5:30 p.m. during the month of August, but there are several exceptions to that rule and a couple of July performances thrown in for good measure, so check the Shakespeare & Company Web site for exact dates and times of the performances. The show is free but they like you to call for tickets 413-637-3353. Remember to pick your tickets up from the Founders’ Theatre box office before you tramp across the field to the Rose Footprint or you will just have to turn around and tramp back to get them!
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2005