The Taming of the Shrew was my first Shakespeare as an actor. I played Gremio during my junior year in high school in Libertyville, Illinois. My brother Tim played the tailor. I’m pretty sure Tommy Morello played Curtis. I wore gray shoe polish in my hair and did full-on heavy-duty old-man acting. The only line I remember saying was “quaffed off the muscatel.” Last summer I played Gremio again, for Shana Cooper at California Shakespeare Theater. I also played the tailor, the haberdasher, and Sugarsop. “Quaffed off the muscatel” was cut. I didn’t need the gray shoe polish, alas, nor did I have to fake the geriatrics; I had become a pantaloon for realz. Sigh.
Gremio and Grumio in one season; how campy Shakespeare-nerdy is that?
In between this season and that virgin voyage, I have directed the play twice. One was a huge production at Shakespeare Santa Cruz in 1992 as I became the company’s Artistic Director at the too-ripe age of 30. Reg Rogers shaved his head and played Gremio and the Widow. Bruce Young and Susan Brecht played Pete and Kate. Kate Skinner bound her breasts onstage and played Tranio. Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle did a side-splitting Christopher Sly and Pedant. I set it in a kinda Communist Akron. Hairy-legged Birkenstocked locals protested. Audiences laughed.
Then I directed a touring version with a bank of lockers and hockey sticks. Kate and Bianca were played by boys in oxford cloth button-downs and khakis. All the male roles were played by a girl’s field-hockey team. It is a different play when a boy is getting beat up, as was the case at its premiere in the twilight of the sixteenth century.
I love the play. I understand why some really smart and fun people hate the play. I love it all the more after doing it with my genius friend Aaron Posner. I love his Deadwood decor. I love how he makes us all real and weird at the same time. The play makes me wonder if Shakespeare is still ahead of us in 2012, as I have found him to be so many times before.