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updated: 7/5/2018 7:06 AM

Western-themed 'The Taming of the Shrew' in Geneva July 7

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  • Samie Jo Johnson and Nicole Goeden of Stone Soup Shakespeare will perform in the comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" July 7 in Geneva's Island Park.

    Samie Jo Johnson and Nicole Goeden of Stone Soup Shakespeare will perform in the comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" July 7 in Geneva's Island Park.
    Courtesy of Jack Kelly

  • Nicole Goeden plays Bianca and Mark Maxwell plays her father, Baptista, in the comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" July 7 in Geneva.

    Nicole Goeden plays Bianca and Mark Maxwell plays her father, Baptista, in the comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" July 7 in Geneva.
    Courtesy of John Holley

  • From left, Samie Jo Johnson, Ross Frawley and Nicole Goeden of Stone Soup Shakespeare will perform in the comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" July 7 in Geneva's Island Park.

    From left, Samie Jo Johnson, Ross Frawley and Nicole Goeden of Stone Soup Shakespeare will perform in the comedy "The Taming of the Shrew" July 7 in Geneva's Island Park.
    Courtesy of Stone Soup Shakespeare

  • From left, Mel McCray, Ross Frawley and Nicole Goeden of Stone Soup Shakespeare will bring the laughs in a western-themed performance of "The Taming of the Shrew" set for Saturday, July 7 in Geneva's Island Park.

    From left, Mel McCray, Ross Frawley and Nicole Goeden of Stone Soup Shakespeare will bring the laughs in a western-themed performance of "The Taming of the Shrew" set for Saturday, July 7 in Geneva's Island Park.
    Courtesy of John Holley

 
Daily Herald report

You would be hard pressed to think of two types of entertainment more different from an old TV Western broadcast on the tube and a Shakespeare play performed on the stage. However, both were wildly popular in their day, and Geneva's Shakespeare in the Park is combining the two.

So grab your cowboy hat, boots and picnic and come to Geneva on Saturday, July 7, for a free Shakespeare play with a Western theme performed by Stone Soup Shakespeare as "The Taming of the Shrew" brings cowboys and cowgirls to Island Park.

This comedy finds the Minola sisters, Katherine and Bianca, linked as the younger cannot marry until the older one has. Strong-willed Kate is a bit too much for most of the town's suitors, who are enamored with Bianca's bewitching beauty. When a stranger, Petruchio, comes to town, he is as strange as Kate is quick-witted and the two seem perfectly fitted, but are they? Will Bianca ever marry? Will Katherina find happiness? Will Petruchio win the final bet on the fairest wife?

"Taming" runs 90 minutes without intermission and is filled with quick-witted gags, slapstick humor and original music and dance appropriate for all ages. Stone Soup's shows are incredibly athletic, said director Eric Mercado, which is part of what makes the performances so delightful. And keep a close eye on the stage; six actors bring 20 characters to life by changing costumes, vocal inflections and physical gestures, he added.

The audience can look forward to an evening of fun and community, Mercado said.

"This is a family-style telling of a story with lots of comedic moments that everyone in the audience can engage with and participate in. We've got music, line-dancing, "horseback" riding -- truly something for everyone."

Stone Soup's goal is making the play accessible to all.

"Shakespeare's stories are universal," Mercado said. "We want our audience to engage with and enjoy the story so we focus on making it accessible and energetic. We choose a bold and identifiable setting (the American West), which makes it easier for our audiences to be transported and makes the world of Shakespeare's stories more tangible for them."

The Western setting evolved from one of the high school workshops Stone Soup presented. While discussing "Taming," A student proposed it be set in the American West.

"It made perfect sense to us," Mercado said. "The world of the play has a hypermasculine culture that is mirrored in the Wild West, so it is an ideal fit for the play -- and in keeping with the theme of our season: 'For the people by the people.'"

Stone Soup Shakespeare was founded in 2010, and its mission is to bring free professional theater in areas without access to it. The company presents theater events in both the U.S. and U.K. and has featured professional actors from England, Scotland, New York, Chicago and the Southern Illinois region who have appeared off-Broadway, regionally and on national and international tours.

The theater company is focused on bringing work to communities that may have limited access to professional theater, Mercado said.

"The company approaches Shakespeare's plays as if they were new works, which is exciting because we get to re-imagine and rethink these classic plays. Our focus is to present this work in a communal setting that inspires togetherness and allows folks to experience and learn about theater as a way to express human experience through storytelling."

Although the play is a comedy, "Taming" is a "problem play" because of its ending and the misogyny it can be seen to advocate, Mercado said.

"We wanted to challenge ourselves to figure out how this play could be performed in 2018 and how it might be relevant in this particular cultural moment."

"Taming" was never the misogynistic piece that we think it is, said Stone Soup artistic director Julia Stemper, who plays Katherine, the female lead, aka the shrew.

"Shakespeare actually wrote it as a satire to try to remind the changing class of English citizens that in order for life to work, they need to create a partnership in marriage."

Over the years attitudes have changed, "but we need to push this dialogue and these conversations that marriage is an equal partnership in life," she said.

"We have to get past what has happened and figure out how to forge forward," she added. It's not condoning the behavior that spurred the #MeToo movement, "but how can men and women live in this world together? How are we as women going to be heard and how are we going to make men listen without telling them they can't exist?"

What if Katherine is not a shrew needing to be tamed, "but simply a woman speaking her mind, telling it like it is?" Stemper said.

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