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Random Access Theatre’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’

Sit on it, Shakespeare! ‘Taming of the Shrew’ goes ‘Happy Days’

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A shrewd performance is coming to Brooklyn’s front lawn.

Random Access Theatre is staging a 1950s-tinged production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” at Brooklyn Bridge Park from July 18–20. The retro twist is intended to draw out questions about the treatment of women in the classic work, explained one of the organizers.

“We’re not shying away from the darker content,” said Jennifer Sandella, the theater group’s artistic director. “We want to be really honest about the text, looking at it through a modern lens.”

The main controversy in Shakespeare’s play centers around the character Petruchio, who is trying to make his wife Katherina more obedient. To a modern audience, this story line often feels misogynistic and demeaning to women. But by using a wardrobe from the 1950s, when women were still struggling for basic rights of equality with men, Sandella said the Random Access production finds a parallel that makes the conversation more textured.

“It felt so appropriate,” said Sandella, about setting the play in post-war America. “Kate is trying to be strong and independent in a world where that’s not available to her.”

During World War II, women enjoyed a degree of independence, finding jobs and venturing out into the world on a level they were not able to before, noted Sandella. But when the war ended, the men came home and women were subjugated once again.

“It was back to the kitchen,” Sandella said. “Their independence was taken away from them.”

This experience reflects that of Shakespeare’s Katherina, who loses her independence when she marries, explained Sandella.

The play also casts all of the servant roles as women, a departure from the Bard’s original script. This decision plays with a concept often ingrained in Shakespearean works that the servants are actually smarter than the people in power, Sandella said.

“It highlights what we’re trying to say about the time,” she said.

But for all the heavy politicking behind the curtains of this production, Sandella said the troupe’s production is still light-hearted.

“It’s a comedy for a reason,” she said. “It’s not tragedy,”

This is the third year Random Access is presenting a free outdoors play in Brooklyn Bridge Park. And for Sandella, who lives nearby in Brooklyn Heights, the production gives her a chance to feel connected to her neighborhood.

“It’s something we really love to do,” she said. “It’s a nice change of pace to feel like we’re part of a bigger community.”

“The Taming of the Shrew” at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Granite Prospect (Old Fulton Street at Furman Street in Dumbo, www.brooklynbridgepark.org). July 18–20 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
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