‘Taming of the Shrew’s’ stars inspire director Aaron Posner
When local director and 2012 Helen Hayes Award-winner Aaron Posner decided to tackle “The Taming of the Shrew,” he had two main sources of inspiration.
The first were his stars, Kate Eastwood Norris and Cody Nickell, without whom he likely would not have plunged into one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays. (As you can imagine, the story that deems a strong-willed woman is a “shrew” who requires “taming” by an abusive romantic partner of the opposite sex is not an easy crowd-pleaser in modern times.)
Posner had worked with the two actors before — the real-life married couple met during a production of “As You Like It” that Posner also directed — and he cited his choice of Norris and Nickell as “two of my absolute favorites to work with,” the perfect pair to play Shakespeare’s Katherine and Petruchio.
“It started with them as much as anything,” he said. They “have a passionate, full and rich relationship that I thought would . . . bring things that would help us explore” these characters.
The other spark was HBO. “My wife and I were watching ‘Deadwood,’ ” the series on the very wild American west in the 1870s. Posner said: “I looked at the limited choices of women in this world, women who are angry [in a] world in which money was very powerful and laws and rules were still being written and rewritten all the time. I thought, ‘That is a really interesting setting for this play.’ ”
The final speech, in which Katherine declares her willing and eager submission to Petruchio, is among the play’s most famous and controversial. “I’m still wrestling with certain lines,” Norris said. “In our production, we’re focusing on the fact that these people have finally found true love. . . . And people have to remember that it’s poetry. Shakespeare’s words can mean three things at one time.”
Nickell has his own lines to wrestle with; Petruchio says some things, sans context, that could be something lifted out of the Misogynists’ Guide to Dehumanizing Women. “It’s this possessive rhetoric that’s done throughout the play,” Nickell said. “Is it done with a wink? Is it being spoken ironically? . . . I think he wants someone like [Katherine] is, but he needs someone to be his teammate, not someone who is always fighting and contradicting him.”
The dynamic the two have settled on for Katherine and Petruchio is like the line from “Almost Famous”: The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool. These two lovers, Norris said, “are outcasts. We’re rebels, really. We don’t get along with other people.”
“I would hope that even if people don’t want to have a beer with us after the show, they understand that we’d want to go have a beer together,” Nickell said. There is a huge love story between these two. . . . Here we are; it’s us against the world.”
May 1 to June 10 at Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. www.folger.edu/theatre. 202-544-7077.
Adventure Theatre and Musical Theater Center are merging into a shiny, new $2.5 million to $3 million organization called Adventure Theatre MTC. Both theaters offered drama classes for children, but only Adventure had professional productions of children’s shows; MTC held only student performances.
The new organization aims to increase the number of student productions, expand professional productions and potentially offer a two-year, post-high school graduate program that may include “credits that can transfer to a four-year program for those who want to pursue a degree,” said Michael Bobbitt, Adventure Theatre MTC’s producing artistic director.
“We realized our programs complement each other,” he said. Adventure Theatre catered to the 2- to 8-year-old crowd; after that point, they aged out of the programs and could head over to MTC, which would serve them until the end of high school.
“Both of us realized that our business models are strained,” he said. Adventure offered big performances but minimal training, and MTC did the opposite, he said.
Programming will continue as scheduled through the end of August. The plan is for administrative central to be at Adventure’s headquarters in Glen Echo and programming to be based out of MTC’s space in Rockville, with Bobbitt having offices in both locations.
“With staff retreats and a lot of consulting and mini-task forces,” Bobbitt said, he expects to have the logistics sorted out “within six months.”
MTC has 10,000 square feet of studio space and offices in Rockville where kids can take classes and the professional productions can hold rehearsals. Adventure’s performance space in Glen Echo will be the site for those productions (student performances are typically held in rented venues because the casts are too big for Adventure’s space).
The leaders of both organizations are part of the new Adventure Theatre MTC and Bobbitt says he hopes to add more marketing support and possibly a full-time finance manager to the staff. Another big dream: “a program for select students who are diehard and know they want to be professional performers” that would take 100 kids a year.
Talk with Peter Marks
Have you spent many a morning wanting to tell Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks just what you think of his opinions, as you rattle the newspaper over your coffee (or shake your iPad precariously above your cereal bowl) wondering how it’s possible you saw the same show as he did? Tell him face-to-face at Thursday night’s theatreWeek event, sponsored by theatreWashington: “Theatre Critics: It’s Only Their Opinion, What They Do and How They Do It.”
Marks will be on hand, along with Sophie Gilbert, Washingtonian’s associate arts editor, and Ben Freed, DCist’s associate editor, to discuss the basics and process of writing theater reviews. The panel will be moderated by theatreWashington chief executive Linda Levy Grossman. Critics of the critic are invited. Fans, of course, are also welcome.
Thursday at 7 p.m., Helen Hayes Gallery at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. www.nationaltheatre.org. 212-239-6233