6 Reasons to See The Public Theater's "The Taming of the Shrew"

Lindsay Timmington

  • OnStage New York Columnist

Free.  

Why pay $60 for a rear balcony ticket in a Broadway or Off-Broadway house when you can see a show for free? Instead of queuing up at 6am with the rest of the hopeful theatergoers, download the TodayTix app and enter the lottery. I had to read the email four times to convince myself I’d won seeing as I was so used to my daily “Try Again” message from the “Hamilton” lottery. 

The Delacorte. 

When I visited New York City in 1999 for the first time, the Delacorte Theatre was one of the first places my dad took me. It was March so it wasn’t open, but I distinctly remember gazing at the outdoor playing space, with the park as the backdrop and city behind it and thinking, this is amazing. And it is. 

Fireflies & A Random Raccoon.

As a kid from the midwest fireflies are a novelty to me. When the sun set stage lights came up, little sparks of light accompanied the theatrical lighting, flitting around the actors, stage and set. There was something about this that set this experience apart from every other theatrical experience, and made the whole thing feel, well, magical. Also, right before the show started a brave raccoon trekked backstage and made an impromptu pre-show appearance for anyone sitting far house right in the theatre. Wildlife cameos really take a theatrical production to the next level. 

BYOB. 

Donna Lynne Champlin, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Cush Jumbo in The Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew (Joan Marcus)

Donna Lynne Champlin, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Cush Jumbo in The Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park production of The Taming of the Shrew (Joan Marcus)

My theatre companion and I chose to partake in the classiest of all spirits—boxed wine, because the Delacorte allows you to bring in your own food and beverages (with the exception of glassware) and this is an incredible thing, especially when you’re used to spending $64 on a sippy cup of vinegar-y wine at every other theatre. Might I recommend the economical Bandit boxed Chardonnay to go with your hopefully free ticket (and possible raccoon sighting.)

Janet McTeer. 

The Tony award winning actress plays Pertruchio with such swagger and skill that I almost wondered if she’d studied under my all time favorite Shakespearean actor—Mark Rylance. Her ease with the language, willingness to muddy it and make it her own, to let it live in her body made for a captivating and standout performance. Hell, I wanted to kiss her. 

A Diverse, All Female Cast.

As the issues of gender parity and diverse casting rises to the forefront of the theatrical world’s consciousness, this is a leap forward as we meander towards creating more opportunity for women in the arts. Given the relative scarcity of female roles in Shakespeare (and knowing that in Shakespeare’s time the female parts were played by boys or young men) for the Public Theatre to mount an all female production of “Shrew” is most definitely sending us in the right direction.

And there you have it. Six reasons to hit “enter” on the Today Tix app for The Public Theatre’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” But, as my theatre companion and I told a woman walking her dog outside the theatre who asked about the show afterwards—this “Shrew” misses the mark. 

Here’s why. 

But first a disclaimer—this was the first night/preview and it’s to be expected that they’re working out kinks and it will likely find better footing as the run progresses—but there are still a couple of big problems with the production. 

It was a big to-do when the Public announced the would be kicking of the 2016 season of Shakespeare in the Park with an all female cast for “Shrew.” I was thrilled by the news and knew I’d tried to see it despite never being able to get tickets in past years. While “Shrew” isn’t my favorite Shakespeare play (I’m continually cringing as I write“shrew”) and I find it a problematic piece—I thought they had a brilliant, golden opportunity to address the themes of misogyny, gender stereotypes, and trans awareness in this production. 

But they didn’t. In fact the entire production felt off to me. The directorial concept wasn’t clear, it felt as if the goal was to do as much as possible in a quest for zany antics and over the top humor and instead, it just all fell short. Framed within a beauty pageant (a potentially great vehicle for the show) the time period was muddy, the musical landscape of the show jumped back and forth between decades and this proved confusing and difficult to determine which world the play was meant to live in. The decision to include a “Trump” character for cheap laughs and then avoid tying it into the overwhelmingly misogynistic nature of the show felt like an intentionally missed opportunity and that was incredibly frustrating.

And then we get into gender. Men in drag is, almost always, inherently funny. Women in drag is just not as funny. It’s interesting to watch and I applaud the actors’ commitment and choices made within the framework of that artistic decision, but it just didn’t work. One of my original expectations for the show (and I fully acknowledge this as something I’d just decided would be included in the production) was the acknowledgement and navigation into non-heteronormative relationships. I wanted to see at least ONE of the main relationships be between two women, not a woman and a woman in drag. I wanted there to be an acknowledgement or at least an exploration of gender identity, of trans rights and trans relationships and they had so many opportunities to do this and didn’t take any of them.  And that’s a big, big problem for me. 

Finally, I audibly groaned when Pertruchio and Kate fake kissed. I can NOT understand why they avoided that opportunity. It felt almost as if the production screamed “We gave you an all female ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and that’s as far as we’ll go! It’s cute to have women play men but we won’t make them KISS each other!” Fake anything onstage reads as just that—FAKE—and to fake kiss is the stuff of junior high school productions and should never be an issue in a professional production. Ultimately, it read as borderline homophobic and a little offensive. 
In the end, everything about the show felt tentative and too safe and not what I expected from a director who brought an acclaimed all-female “Henry IV” to St. Ann’s Warehouse last year. I love so much about Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theatre but this “Shrew” is hardly shrewd and unless you can win tickets through Today Tix, I certainly wouldn’t stand around and wait for this one. 

 

Becoming One of 5 Million at The Public Theater

Nickolaus Hines

Black and red text against a backdrop photograph of Delacorte theater detail the four possible ways to get free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. It’s free, the tickets are accessible online for a millennial generation afraid of human-to-human contact and it is a chance to understand Shakespeare through the performances of award winning actors.

I dutifully entered my name into the ticket lottery the first day I moved to New York three weeks ago.  And then again the next day, and the next. I repeatedly pushed forward my name in an effort to join the cultural (yet cheap) elite who have seen the Bard’s words belted out in the most famous urban park in the world. 

Kate Burton, Lily Rabe, and Hamish Linklater in The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Cymbeline, directed by Daniel Sullivan, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Kate Burton, Lily Rabe, and Hamish Linklater in The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Cymbeline, directed by Daniel Sullivan, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Theater is “an essential cultural force,” the Public Theater website writes. Founder Joseph Papp looked to bring theater into discussion as a public good. I had spent the last four years in Auburn, Ala., attending Auburn University, where theater is less of a public good and more of an aside meant only for a few eyes and ears. I was overdue for my vaccine of cultural force, but my public insurance wasn’t getting me the care very quickly.

“Hello – Thank you for signing up for the Virtual Ticketing Lottery for Free Shakespeare in the Park,” the first line of each denial email read. “Unfortunately, you have not been selected to receive tickets to tonight’s performance.”

Until I did. 

I was given seven hours to claim my ticket in Central Park. I admittedly had entered my name on this fateful day as an afterthought, having long since graduated from the school of sugar plum fairies and dreams where such things come true. I knew the tickets were for Cymbeline, but I didn’t know even the basic plot structure of Cymbeline.  Yet when I received the email detailing where to pick up my tickets, I knew I was about to join more than 5 million people and 50 years of Free Shakespeare in the Park.

While I sat in the outdoor, half-coliseum arrangement of the Delacorte Theater I reveled in being persistent enough to enter my name day after day. I was aware that it was a small task to ask for a quality free performance, but I couldn’t help but feel as if I had been randomly picked because of my sheer willpower, not a random selection computer program.

It didn’t matter that I was unfamiliar with Cymbeline, either. Each actor and each actress spoke with anachronistic, modern day inflections that carried the audience through Old English rather than dropped them. The artistic liberties that were taken showed through in song and dance numbers as well as audience interactions. The play itself piggybacked me into enjoyment even more grand than the satisfaction of being chosen to receive a ticket. I walked back to the subway at the conclusion of the play in awe at the quality directing and acting.

I finally had my four-year-overdue visit with the cultural doctor, and I did it without needing to take out a loan.