Taming of the Shrew: A Modern Tale
This weekend I attended the Propeller Acting Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I was unfamiliar with the play. As with most Shakespeare productions, I made a deliberate attempt to sit up upright in my seat, better equipped to adjust my ear and brain to Elizabethan English. Propeller’s all-male cast required a bit of a brain shift, too.
In the play, the drunken and broke Petruchio finds opportunity to line his pockets with wealth. If he “tames’ and marries the ill-tempered Kate, eldest daughter of a wealthy lord, he will receive an abundant dowry in return.
The play unfolds and action and emotion intensify. Petruchio and Kate’s father, Baptista, negotiate the dowry or price of Kate. Once agreed, Kate’s father hands Kate over in marriage. Petruchio’s “taming” or campaign of terror begins. He refuses to clothe her, servants deliberately withhold food to the starving young women, treachery reigns. Petruchio torments Kate with psychological terror. The audience is pulled in to Kate’s transformation from a belligerent, cocky young woman to a withering mess. Petruchio’s domination intensifies and Kate looses all sense of humanity. (By now, I believe no one in the audience is aware Kate is played by a male actor. Gender is irrelevant as once is drawn in my the human-ness of Kate.)
Taming of the Shrew debuted in the 16th century. Its story is relevant today. Two days prior to this performance, staff at The Bridge attended a 3-hour training session about sexually exploited youth. The graphic session affirmed that Kate’s story indeed plays out every day in Minneapolis where young girls are bought, sold, and tortured into submission.
The training session, led by a former prostitute, informed staff how young girls move into “the life”, the code word for prostitution. Vulnerable girls, many lacking a safe place to sleep or food, may trade sex for basic needs. The longer this continues, the greater the opportunity for further exploitation.
Predators, seeing an opportunity for financial gain, offer “free” gifts like fancy clothes, cell phones, or meals. Later, pressure may build when a girl is invited to “just dance’ at a house party. Dancing may lead to an “invitation” to perform at Amateur’s Night at a strip club. “Family members” offer cash and adulation. In a carefully plotted plan, a predator will eventually take “ownership” of the girl, branding her with a carefully chosen tatoo. The cycle begins.
In Taming of The Shew, Kate is completely broken. With no chance of changing her life, she submits to the most base requests. Hope dies. Here at The Bridge, young girls with similar situations land on our doorstep. The difference is caring counselors are trained to spot warning signs of exploitation. With careful counseling, intervention can take place. while not every young person is saved, many do get connected with the right services to ward off what can become a lifetime of horror and mistreatment.