We’ll get married on Sunday, Petruchio proclaims after his first conversation with Katharina.
“I’ll see thee hanged on Sunday first,” she responds.
If you recognize those sentiments from “The Taming of the Shrew,” you’re probably familiar with the way William Shakespeare’s famous battle-of-the-sexes has often been presented over the years: Petruchio marries the feisty Katharina and proceeds to “tame” her with unconventional behavior that includes depriving her of food and sleep.
When you look at the story that way, “there’s certainly a conflict with decency” said Dane Bower, of West Wyoming, who portrays Petruchio in Gaslight Theatre’s production of the comedy, which opens tonight in the troupe’s performance space in Wilkes-Barre Township’s East End Centre.
“In this production, it’s more a relationship of equals,” said Mollie Dooley, of Kingston, who portrays Katharina.
“We wondered, how do you make ‘Shrew’ not just acceptable but palatable in 2018?” said Brandi George, of Kingston, who is co-directing the production with Dave Reynolds.
The solution, without changing the language of the play, was to work on delivery, gestures and nuance.
“We do a lot with undertones,” Bower said, “to make it more playful and less cruel.”
“There are some times when he’s genuinely complimenting her (rather than jabbing her with sarcasm), and you start to see the spark between them,” Dooley said. “They respect each other.”
Even back in Shakespeare’s day, Dooley surmised, the Bard probably had more affection for Katharina than for her docile sister. “Shakespeare loved language, and he wouldn’t have made her so witty and clever if he wanted to ‘put her in her place.’”
“You can see they’re well matched for each other,” George said of Katharina and Petruchio, or Kate and Pete, as she sometimes refers to them. “In the end, there are no two more perfect people for each other in the world of the play.”
Katharina and Petruchio may be the best matched — and they may be trying to “tame” each other — but they’re not the only couple in the production.
Much of the humor of the show comes from the subplot in which rival suitors compete for Katharina’s younger sister, Bianca, who by paternal decree cannot be courted until her older sister is married.
As a rehearsal got under way earlier this week, that subplot provided lots of opportunities for not only verbal but physical comedy, with Lucentio (Mike Wawrzynek, of Forty Fort) sprawling on the floor in an agony of desire for Bianca, then mincing about in an academic gown so he could gain access to the young woman as a tutor.
Portraying another suitor, Hortensio, Rob Klubeck, of Wilkes-Barre, enters the young women’s household as a music instructor and, thanks to Katharina’s temper, staggers away with a broken lute around his neck.
As for Bianca’s senior citizen of a suitor, Gremio, John Beppler, of Wilkes-Barre, portrays the old gent sporting a long, gray wig and enjoying the directors’ permission to go ahead and “channel Yoda.”
“We have some great Shakespearean actors in the cast,” said Jonathon Vojtko, of Wilkes-Barre, who plays Lucentio’s servant, Tranio. “Not only Shakespeare talent but comedic talent.”
The cast is displaying its talent in an indefinite time period, George said, with a “push and pull between past and present.”
While the production’s thrust stage is traditional for a Shakespeare play, she said, the costuming — with the occasional cape, corset or ruffed collar dressing up black jeans and t-shirts — is a mix. So too is the music, with modern tunes played on mandolin and classical guitar.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.