‘Best beware my sting’

Legacy Stage puts Katherina in the spotlight for its upcoming production of The Taming of the Shrew

The "shrew" Kate (played by Jami Witt Miller) is front-and-center in the Legacy Stage production of The Taming of the Shrew. (Photo by Meagan Heller; courtesy of Legacy Stage)

For 21st century audiences, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew can be confusing. It’s as fun and witty as any of the Bard’s comedies, but it does require a great deal of focus (and maybe a cheat sheet) to navigate multiple characters pretending to be other characters as they engage in various deceptions and wooings in pursuit of wives and dowries.

The five-century old play is also often a challenge to the sensibilities of modern audiences, specifically with regard to gender roles in a story that revolves around a “shrew” that needs to be “tamed.” It’s this element that’s the focus of the Legacy Stage production of The Taming of the Shrew, which the local theater company is staging for this year’s edition of Shakespeare in the Park.

Subtitled “Kate’s Version,” the aim of this production, according to director Erin Horst, is to have the “driving force” of the play be the so-called “shrew”—Katherina (played by Jami Witt Miller), instead of her suiter/tamer Petruchio (played by Erin’s husband Kyle Horst). The CN&R wanted to know more about what Legacy Stage has planned for the play, so we met the director for a Q&A on the grounds of Cedar Grove in Bidwell Park, where The Taming of the Shrew will open this Wednesday (May 29).

Director Erin Horst stands in the Cedar Grove meadow, site of the Legacy Stage production of The Taming of the Shrew. (Photo by Jason Cassidy)

CN&R: What’s your intention with “Kate’s Version” of the play?

Erin Horst: Taming of the Shrew is super challenging when you think about it from a contemporary perspective, just because of our ideas about gender and power and what relationships look like and how they were dramatically different at the time Shakespeare was writing this play.

But in some ways there’s a lot of connection. One of the things that I discovered as I was re-reading the script, was that Shakespeare might have been more aligned with how we view women and power. And the way in which he tackles the subject matter as a farce is so exciting. That’s kind of what’s led to Kate’s Version. Oftentimes, when you see production of Taming of the Shrew, they either make the conclusion of it super-ironic, or they make her sarcastic at the end. I think what Shakespeare was more so trying to do was to lean into what this experience was like for Kate … that she’s going through this imbalance of power with Petruchio, and that ending speech is her reacting to it and making a statement about it; a commentary. So, we’re giving her a little bit more power and autonomy than what I’ve seen done on stage before with Taming.

Is this an original Legacy Stage adaptation?

It’s no change to the text at all. So, no adaptation at all. It’s just the interpretation. Kate starts the play and she ends the play. All that we had to do was take some lines that are typically given to other characters. They’re in the text, but we gave them to Kate. It’s a subtle shift, and it’s two lines total where we switched, and it makes all the difference in the world. It sort of sets her up as the protagonist. Often times, Petruchio is the driving force in the play, but in our version Kate is the driving force.

Poster photo by Meagan Heller; courtesy of Legacy Stage.

I imagine you and your Katherina, Jami Witt Miller, worked together to bring that vision to life?

Jami and are really good friends, too, outside of the process, so we’ve been having conversations for quite a long time about what this would look like. I think a lot of the power of what Jami is doing is that the audience will [experience] a lot of ambiguity; which is super powerful in and of itself because it forces the audience to think about how they treat people, and how they interact with power and wealth and gender-normative practices in our culture.

Interestingly enough, we kind of came away with: If Kate just fights for what she wants in the play, then we achieve our goal. Because then the audience sees, and make decisions on their own.

Really, my whole goal is [for] people [to] walk away being like, “I don’t know how I feel about this. I’m so conflicted.”

The production is here in the natural environs of Cedar Grove. What is Legacy adding to this picture?

We are using the same stage that we used for As You Like It last year, so the audience will be on most sides, except for the back side, so it’s almost theater in the round. We got actors coming down through the aisles. And we’re doing something new this year where have a pre-show. We’re having live music happening from 7 to 8 before the show starts—different people each night.

Has staging Shakespeare in Bidwell Park served the productions well?

I’m not from Chico originally, so when we first started doing it, I had no idea about the long history of Shakespeare in this spot. We feel honored to be doing it [here], and feel like it’s a tradition. We’re thankful that we have this space, and if feels really well-suited for it, so we hope to keep doing it here. It’s just very lovely.

How have rehearsals and preparations been going?

We rehearse every day out in the park. We’re having a ton of fun. It’s funny because the play’s super challenging but it’s also hilarious. It’s one of those things where you’re laughing and then you’re, like, “Oh my gosh, this is so terrible that I’m laughing.”

What’s next for Legacy Stage?

For the first time, we’re doing a three-show season this year. After Taming of the Shrew, at the end of the summer/early fall, we’re doing a play called The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson. It’s a small piece about women revolutionists throughout history. Each of them are from different periods of history and they meet on this metaphysical plane of reality and have a conflict and conversation together. It’s really cool. We don’t have a venue for that yet, but we’re going to be announce that soon.

And then we’re doing A Christmas Carol at Laxson in December. We’re really excited. We’re growing quickly.

Shakespeare in the Park
Legacy Stage presents The Taming of the Shrew
May 29-June 2 & June 4-9, 8 p.m.
Cedar Grove in Bidwell Park (BYO blankets, chairs, picnic, bug spray. No pets or alcohol.)
Tickets: $20 at https://www.legacystage.org/tickets/

1 Comment

  1. I saw The Taming of the Shrew last night. It was an excellent experience. Director Erin achieved her goal. My husband & I walked away from the performance thinking: “I don’t know how I feel about this. I’m so conflicted.” One thing we knew for sure was that Katherine was definitely the person in charge. It was Katherine’s play and Jami did an incredible job in this role. I am glad I found your review today. It clarified the experience. I was glad to learn that Shakespeare’s lines were spoken as written, with just a few switches in who spoke them. I attended Shakespeare in the Park two decades ago. Now, as then, this is a magical place & time to experience live theatre. Thank you to Legacy for bringing back this tradition.

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