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Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s “Shrew” reimagined in 1960 Little Italy
ONE OF THE TRULY REMARKABLE THINGs about the genius of Mr. William Shakespeare (celebrating, by the way, his 450th birthday this April) is that his plays can be set in multiple eras and still make sense, be funny, be tragic, be dagger-sharp about human motivations and follies.
The Chattanooga Theatre Centre opens an example of this on Friday with a “reinterpretation” of one of WS’s most popular plays, “The Taming of the Shrew.” As detailed on the CTC’s site: “Our production will have you singing and dancing in the aisles as the story’s setting of Padua is transported to a neighborhood not unlike Manhattan’s Little Italy in 1960 and scored with familiar tunes by the likes of Louis Prima, Rosemary Clooney and Tony Bennett.”
Scott Dunlap directs, which gives us high hopes for this production, because he’s shown himself a past master at off-kilter comedy. He’s cast that fine actor Jim Eernisse as the ultra-macho-with-a-secret-heart-of-gold Petruchio, and high-spirited Lizzie Chazen (so good in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”) as seriously untamable Kate, and in theatre, casting is 90 percent of the show, so watch out for theatrical fireworks.
In keeping with the CTC’s 90th season project of presenting favorite shows from seasons past, “Shrew” was previously done at the center in both 1934 and 1966, and again according to the site, “has the distinction of being the earliest production in our 90 year history to be revived this season.”
“Taming of the Shrew” has run into political correctness objections during the last few decades, centered primarily on Kate’s final speech, in which she promises to “place her hand beneath her husband’s foot.” But this is Shakespeare at his slyest. If you study the play, or even better, see an astounding production of it such as ACT’s in the 1976, with Marc Singer as Petruchio (still available as a PBS “Great Performance”), and you’ll get that the playwright who more than any other “invented the human” is not so unsubtle. Kate and Petruchio are each other’s equals and neither wishes to be “tamed,” to conform to what is expected of them.
Not only is “Shrew” the classic battle of the sexes, but its subplots, involving Kate’s little minx of a sister, Bianca, her many suitors and their wacky attempts to woo her, plus numerous characters pretending to be someone they’re not, make for much extended hilarity.
The play is also a great gateway drug into the world of Shakespeare. For those who just cannot face three hours of “Hamlet”, or even “As You Like It”, “Shrew” offers an introduction to exactly why an old Elizabethan guy is still regarded with the awe he is. Our recommendation? Hie thee to the CTC while the hieing is good and see this show. And while you’re there, make a donation to support one of the city’s treasures, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.