Originally from San Francisco, Haley Slamon is a recent transplant to the Chicago area. When she is not auditioning for shows, Haley enjoys seeing theater that showcases diverse and underrepresented groups that she identifies with (namely queer, plus sized women), knitting, playing piano or guitar, and binge-watching Netflix. She is proud to be helping PerformInk nurture the wonderful companies that are attempting to improve the art-form and their communities by creating engaging, diverse, and meaningful performances.
(l-r) Danielle Davis, Veronda G. Carey, India Gurley, Dan Wilson, Mary Ann de la Cruz, Savanna Rae. Photo: Kat Tushim.
There are very few shows that are as problematic or uncomfortable to watch from a woman’s perspective as THE TAMING OF A SHREW. The piece provides an antiquated yet all too familiar plot of a woman who is forced into believing opinions that are not her own and acting against her will to survive in a society run by men. However, when the show is framed as a lesson and used to reveal women’s experiences to others, it becomes a piece about change: what has happened, and what should not happen anymore. This is Artemisia’s goal in their new production SHREWISH a gender bent retelling of the Shakespearean classic that includes sassy prose along with its eloquent iambic pentameter, all couched in the story of five women attempting to get a former-frat-boy-like man to understand their daily struggles. Adapted and directed by Barbara Zahora, SHREWISH is admirable in its idea, and enjoyable in its execution, whether it also fulfills the desire of Artemisia to create art that empowers women is certainly up for interpretation.
From the top of the production, it’s clear this will be a different entity than a simple Shakespearean retelling. The fanciful lights bring in a group of magical sisters, talking about their plan to teach a man what they go through so he can change the minds of others, and that this time must be different, so he will carry on the information. They find this man at a bar, staring at the waitress’s tits, ignoring his date, have him drink a “verse potion”, and thus the play within a play begins. The women go to work dressing him as Katarina (Dan Wilson), so their small and spritely Petruchio (India Gurley) can tame him with magic, false kindness, and marriage.
The show that follows this setup is far easier to watch than the traditional version and is greatly helped along by its spectacular cast. The diverse and powerful group of women (India Gurley, Savanna Rae, Veronda G. Carey, Danielle Davis, Mary Ann de la Cruz) are able to provide humor in their sincerest evils while maintaining their femininity, and the entire cast performs full out for an audience of what could be hundreds, even if there are only 15 people in the seats. As Danielle Davis says in the first scene, they truly do, “iambic pentameter the shit out of this.” The play within a play aspect that distances the horrors from reality is also helped along by a no-nonsense plywood set that suggests locations, with lighting and effects that emphasize the magic that is used with a “get ‘er done” intention. Even in such uncomfortable situations as denying Katarina food, the actors’ commitment and play allow for the humor to shine through the darkest of thinkings.
However, while the actors are fun, and the production enjoyable, its construction has a few significant stumbles that muddy the intentions of the show. In the final scene, where the women frankly have a conversation with the man they have “educated”, he says, “I don’t know how, but I will help you.” Since this scene is not followed by a call to action from the women or an example of changed behavior from the man, it calls into question why we all just sat through the two hours of teaching, or if the student has really learned anything at all. Furthermore, for a show that is supposed to empower women, the premise leaves a rather realistic but bittersweet taste: that in order for women to gain respect and combat the patriarchy, they must enlist men’s help if they hope to change any significant amount of minds. These questions are then not greatly addressed by the talkback, which felt entrapping since it began with no pause after the final bows, and was led by a white man not involved in the production, who had only seen the show for the first time with the audience. The show feels like it starts a conversation that is necessary and nuanced but then never answers the questions that it poses.
A show like SHREWISH is needed, now more than ever. In the wake of an election that showed privilege has a habit of being blind to the hardships of others, we need to find ways to communicate our experiences to each other. However, when this is done without context or clarity, the result can often be more distancing than relatable. It is reasonable, even easy to see a man walking out of this show saying things like, “We don’t treat women like that now. What am I supposed to do differently?” which defeats the purpose of discussion. SHREWISH is a valiant attempt to begin this conversation, but does not consistently hit the mark, and therefore must be furthered and refined by its viewers. However, if this conversation is a new concept that you wish to get involved in, SHREWISH is a good jumping-off point.