Girl power fuels "Shrew"

by Kristina Latino

We all have a favorite adaptation of a classic tale. When I first saw 10 Things I Hate About You in 1999, I didn’t realize it was based on Shakespeare’s classic play The Taming of the Shrew. Like many of today’s films, it was telling one of Shakespeare’s stories in modern language. Of course, there are other ways to modernize or alter one of Shakespeare’s plays to create a unique production. The Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of Taming of the Shrew goes up this week. The production retains original dialogue but changes things up by using an all-female cast.

Because gender is so central to the play's theme, director Simone Polanen '14 decided to have a single-sex cast for several reasons.

"Taming has so many interesting dynamics, power struggles and interpretations of femininity versus masculinity," says Polanen. "Women tend to interpret male roles differently. So it’s interesting to see how that happens."

Polanen also noted gender imbalance in student productions as a reason for casting only women. With so many more women auditioning for roles than men, she wanted to give more female students the opportunity to explore challenging roles and rich material. A graduate from an all-female high school, Polanen spent a lot of theater time as an actor playing male roles. It was a positive experience, and she wanted to spread it to Harvard. The women in the cast voiced their support for this decision.

"I think it’s really fun, and makes an entirely different dynamic," says Emilie Thompson '16, who plays Baptista. Ellie Crowley '15, who plays a tailor and widow in the production, notes that having an all-female cast creates a "safe space" in which everyone is free to experiment with the acting.

Watching a speed-through of the play (a run in which the actors solidify lines, blocking and energy but disregard pacing), the camaraderie in the cast was palpable. The safe space had effectively created an environment in which the actors felt comfortable enough to boldly portray the complicated men in the play without problematic inhibitions.

The Taming of the Shrew runs Oct. 25-Nov. 3 at the Loeb Experimental Theater.

[Caption: The all-female cast rehearses "The Taming of the Shrew." ]