I raise the issue not out of an uncontrolled burst of feminism, but because a new production of Shrew opens Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Next Stage Theater in S.F. Dudgeon at the ready, I call Sherri Young, executive director of the African-American Shakespeare Company, and ask, not too calmly, what's the deal? Young contends that "the play deals with the problems that men and women still have with each other. Kate is a solid woman who won't put up with anyone's shit. She learns in the course of the play that a relationship will only work if she cuts her edge softer."
Young maintains that "theater is about connection. It's the last place [in the arts] where we can connect with each other." The company offers opportunities to African-American actors to perform classical roles, still the benchmark of an actor's skill. "Too often," Young explains, "nontraditional casting means that the African-American actors are cast as Fairy Number 2, or as part of a crowd scene."
I ask Kathryn Seabron, Shrew's director, "Why this play?" She tells me that "ever since I was little, when I first read the play, I saw Kate as a large, feisty black woman, and I wanted to see that onstage." As for the misogyny, Seabron has made some changes: "Baptista is now a woman, so instead of a father getting rid of his chattel, it's a mother finding security for her daughters. For me, the show is about women coming to terms with their power. Kate is intelligent, strong, and opinionated -- all things that are seen as bad for women. She's so angry. Petruchio shows her what she's doing, helps her to see that she doesn't have to be so angry."
Will the African-American female perspective diminish the misogyny? Decide for yourself. Call 333-1918.
By Deborah Peifer