It’s been established that William Shakespeare’s popular comedy Taming of the Shrew is rife with misogyny — we get it; it doesn’t need further exploration — so, to provide a new perspective, Jaybird Productions is using an all-female cast to highlight the corrupting influence of power in the play.
Many people have problems with Taming of the Shrew and with good reason. The play is about a gentleman named Petruchio, who wants to marry a woman named Katherina for her immense dowry. But she’s willful and doesn’t want to marry him, so he begins a campaign to wear her down psychologically. For instance, he starves her when he finds something wrong with the food and doesn’t let her sleep because there’s something wrong with the bed. “It’s normally viewed as a very misogynist play,” says Jacqui Burke, artistic director of Jaybird Productions and director of the all-female production. “There’s a very famous scene in which he calls the sun the moon, and unless she calls it the moon, too, she doesn’t get to go home.”
By making everyone’s gender the same, Burke hopes to shift the audience’s focus from gender-related inequalities within the play to “analyzing power issues in the relationships.” In Taming of the Shrew as written — with males and females in the roles — the audience can’t help but view Petruchio’s apparent cruelty as a result of his gender, but in a women-only cast, Petruchio’s behaviour seems to be more a result of having greater power than Katherina. “I want to find out how that plays out and how it might change the story,” Burke says.
In keeping with the spirit of its new take on the play, this production will also take place in an unusual venue. Jaybird Productions opted for a storefront on the Danforth rather than a conventional theatre, and the space will be set up as a theatre-in-the-round, or arena theatre, meaning the audience will surround the play on all sides. “The actors are interacting with the audience in a way they would have done back in Shakespeare’s day but we don’t do as much anymore,” Burke says. There is a $2 discount for anyone who brings their own cushion or chair on which to sit, and there will be a variety of refreshments, including delicious baked treats from Baking by Robb.