The Taming of the Shrew is a problem play by William Shakespeare under the genre of comedy. The play is made up of several elements such as deceptive disguise, marriage, and slapstick humor that interact in such a way that their theatre portrayals elicit comic relief and laughter in audiences. The central idea in the play is misogynistic; that of female subservience to male authority in a marriage and its physical enforcement if necessary. However, the play was set to four hundred years ago in the Elizabethan age where the church supported such positions as fundamental factors in marriage; that the man was the head off the wife.
The Taming of the Shrew is one of the most challenging plays of William Shakespeare. Set in the Elizabethan era, several original elements of play do not resonate with the modern sensibilities of audiences, even as early as 1976. Since the plot itself is fairly straightforward, the act of simply telling the story is not enough in theatre. As such, modern directors face the difficulty of recreating the play in ways that step out from under the shadows of former well-known production. Design elements help producers in achieving this goal. In recreating the play, the most pertinent question is which elements should be introduced to the setting in order to reimagine the interpretation of the text and keep modern audiences entertained all while remaining true to the essential nature of Shakespeare’s work. The 1976 filmed stage production of The Taming of the Shrew play by the American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco featured several compelling design elements that augmented the Shakespearean play.
The Taming of the Shrew was directed by William Ball at the Geary Theatre and later by Kirk Browning for telecasting. The two directors rendered the play broadly with an Italian style centering around commedia dell’arte. This is interpreted as ‘comedy of art’ or ‘comedy of the profession’ and features the use of stock characters. The style was adopted from Italy and spread around Europe from the 16th Century through to the 18th (Wilson and Goldfarb 266). At its prime, the overbearing plot in commedia dell’arte was the struggles of young lovers whose union faces hindrances (Meagher para. 2).
This style is perfect for adaptation in the play as several of their elements correlate. The overbearing design of this style is that of street theatre, even when performed indoors, as is the case with The Taming of the Shrew. As seen from Act I, the play employed the use of many people in masks and identical costumes who remain on the sidelines as the play unfolds around the main characters. The use of masks is a tradition adopted from ancient Roman comedies. These stock characters intermittently interrupt the play with cheers and dance as scenes unfold. These actions are necessary in the development of the play since masking obfuscates the important use of facial expressions.
Additionally, the playwright stays true to the street nature of the commedia dell’arte style by completely cutting out the Induction, that is, the explanatory scene at the opening of the play. This keeps in line with the street style that does not seek to connect with the audience but rather simply perform for them. The use of the Italian comedic style blended perfectly with the Shakespearean play. It gave the 1976 play the circus-like vitality that was almost forgotten from classic play adaptations. It made the production very lively and created a carnival-like atmosphere that was laden with slapstick humor. The commedia dell’arte style ensured the use of acrobatics with characters often stumbling and saw Petruchio climb up the scaffold-like set.
The play employed several stock characters who had a number of interesting attires. The film opens with a commedia dell’arte clown decked out in a mask and a protruding belly as he lifts a piece of wood. Many other clowns enter the stage and it is apparent that each stock character has a unique costume on. This is skillfully used to visually captivate the audience as each one stands out, rather than having matching attires that would otherwise force them to disappear in the background. All characters and spectating performers are adorned in off-white costumes that are decorated in streaks of red. Robert Fletcher, the designer of the costumes, perfectly combined these elements to elicit a communal impression.
The set of the play, as designed by Ralph Funicello, is made principally out of bamboo. It features a raised stage and the entire set comes across with a makeshift appearance. An orange psych is set at the back of main stage. The scaffolding on each side of the stage had cut outs through which characters emerged. Several props are used, including books, ‘horses’, pieces of wood, canisters, furniture, utensils, and flower blossoms.
The play employs a mix of different sounds as scenes develop and spot on lighting. The characters are accompanied with music from the start of the play. Several genres of music are employed to portray the battle of the sexes as the central theme of the play, from humorous tunes to love songs. The play features a lot of silly sounds by the musicians on stage, along with bouts of funny choruses from the stock characters. According to the mood elicited by the play, scenes are accompanied by boos and celebrations.
The 1976 play by ACT features a refreshing use of several design elements that improves upon several previous Shakespeare plays. The playwright gets almost all the elements right and easily elicits emotions and moods from audiences as the play pulls the attention to the set and characters. It showed a mastery in the use of historic commedia dell’arte style. Despite its use of informal tools, the play is highly recommended as it is curated to appeal to modern audiences.