A director with a real passion for Shakespeare, Scot Whitney realized years ago that he didn't like the idea of painting the bard's lilies with a high concept.
So why is Whitney’s new production of “The Taming of the Shrew” set in the Wild West?
“I’m always trying to find my way into the play,” he said. “I want to tell the story, and by telling the story, I get ideas for how things look. In this case, there’s a bold concept, but it came from the text.”
He could hear the West in the dialogue.
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“A few years ago, I was reading it again, and it struck me. All of these lines jumped out at me and I heard this Western drawl. It sounded like cowboy slang: ‘I wouldn’t wed her for a mine of gold,’ ‘Our cake’s dough on both sides,’ ‘There’s small choice in rotten apples.’ ”
Even the accents of Shakespeare’s time fit the old West, said Melanie Moser, who plays Kate. “The Elizabethan accent was very close to what we now consider an Appalachian accent,” she said. “It fits with the meter of Shakespeare’s dialogue quite well.”
Set in Tombstone, Ariz., this “Shrew” includes original cowboy songs based on the concepts from some of Shakespeare’s speeches. Petruchio has become a singing, guitar-slinging cowboy.
Whitney wrote the lyrics, and Harlequin musical director (and Scot’s brother) Bruce Whitney wrote the music.
And the sharp-tongued Kate is now Calamity Jane, an idea inspired by Moser.
Moser played Audrey in last season’s “As You Like It,” and when Scot Whitney saw her stage-fighting prowess, something clicked.
“I saw her and I thought, ‘Calamity Jane as a singing cowboy,’ ” the director said. “This Kate is dirty. She’s tough. She outshoots and outfights all the guys. She’s built up this defense system: ‘You can’t reject me because I’ll reject you first.’ ”
Petruchio is hired to marry Kate – and immediately realizes that he truly wants to. “When these two see each other, they immediately fall in love,” Whitney said. “But Kate doesn’t know how to do that.”
“Kate and Petruchio have fallen in love at first sight, which is a totally unique and different interpretation,” Moser said. “I’ve done ‘Taming of the Shrew’ twice before, and this is nothing like the other productions I’ve done.
“The music changes the relationship between them in a lovely way. It creates a vulnerability in Kate.”
Stage combat was Moser’s favorite class when she studied at Cornish College of the Arts, she said, and this show offered her a chance to learn some new tricks.
“I get to do a little gunslinging,” she said. “Also a couple of punches. And we don’t get do many rope tricks, but I do tie up my sister.”
The Taming of the Shrew'
What: Harlequin Productions presents a Wild West-themed production of William Shakespeare’s battle of the sexes romance, complete with original cowboy songs.
When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday and Oct. 14-16, 21-23 and 28-30 and 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 17 and 24 and 3 p.m. Oct. 16
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $24-$32; rush tickets for $12-$15; pay what you can for the 3 p.m. Oct. 16 show
More information: 360-786-0151 or www.harlequinproductions.org