Thursday, May 2, 2013

Theatre UNO Brings a Modern Twist to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

the-taming-of-the-shrewTheatre UNO puts on a modern twist on a 400-year-old play this week with its performance of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

Shakespeare's Petruchio joins the modern age with this week's performances of Taming of the Shrew at the University of New Orleans Robert E. Nims Theatre.

"The play is 400 years old so there's obviously a lot to be lost, depending on how you take it," said Master of Fine Arts candidate Robert Facio, who performs the role of Petruchio and contributes to the performance's direction as his thesis project. "I completely get to take Petruchio and make of him what I will," said Facio, noting that, under the direction of UNO Film and Theatre Department Chair David Hoover, the ensemble cast of Taming of the Shrew is "trying to take this 400-year-old play and bring it to a current audience."

One of William Shakespeare's great comedies, The Taming of the Shrew is a play within a play, UNO theatre students and faculty said. Beautiful Bianca is surrounded by potential suitors, but her father refuses to allow her to marry until her shrewish sister, Katharina, is betrothed. Hopeful husbands persuade "fortune-seeker" Petruchio to court her.

"Petruchio intends to tame Katharina for the purpose of marriage, but he has met his match in this classic battle of the sexes," reads a performance teaser.

The play began its run Tuesday, April 30 and runs nightly at 7:30 p.m. through Saturday, May 4 in the Robert E. Nims Theatre. A matinee is set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 5. Admission is $12 for the general public and $8 for students, faculty and seniors. For ticket and information, call 280-SHOW (7469) or visit

Hoover and his team have designed the play's set so that the audience experience "is as close to Globe Theater as possible," said Facio. Audience members will sometimes be on stage, are allowed to eat and drink throughout play and will have opportunities for audience interaction.

At the same time, Theatre UNO's performance takes a unique twist with modern technology, such as a live DJ and Twitter feed that allows audience members to tweet their thoughts and reactions during the show using the hashtag #UNOShrew.

"I've always been a big fan of Shakespeare," said Facio, who plans to move to London in the future and may pursue a doctorate in Shakepearean studies. The 26-year-old UNO alumnus and New Orleans native recalled his first theatre performance at UNO, in Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors in 2006.

"I had the most fun. I learned the most. I was so excited to learn," said Facio, who is delighting in "giving the undergraduate students the opportunity that I had as a graduate. I love helping them with the text and talking about these characters and discovering moments with them."

When picking his shows for the season, Hoover loves to choose a show with a big ensemble cast for an end-of-the-year grand finale, Facio said. The theatre professor and department chair approached him last spring about his thesis and offered him several roles, including that of Petruchio, and that of an imagined male Katherina.

Facio chose the role of Petruchio and is now working with Hoover and current M.F.A. graduate student of theatre performance John Neisler to work with undergraduate students to determine elements of the performance. Neisler has also studied Shakespeare intensively. Hoover was looking for the humanist side of the Katherina-Petruchio relationship, said Facio, who called the ancient verbage and the pair's witty repartee "a big wrestling match."

Deciphering text and finding special moments to highlight often requires a review of modern translations for undergraduates, said Facio. Only two characters in this rendition of Taming of the Shrew will be in full Shakespearean costume: Petruchio and Katherina.

The characters are the two smartest characters in the play and speak in elevated language, bantering back and forth as they play board games, Facio said. Petruchio begins the play in full Shakespearean costume and slowly loses his costume piece by piece, while Katherina, who begins the play wearing denim jeans, slowly adds Shakespearean elements to her ensemble.

Theatre UNO's rendition of the play spotlights the quandaries of a woman's place in society, Facio said. Petruchio has just learned to fit within the confines of society and is ostensibly hired with the challenge of "taming" a woman. Yet, he does so in a way that allows Katherina to remain herself.

In that way, Petruchio is a modernist, said Facio, who offered up a spoiler alert.

"Petruchio makes the choice to undress her on stage and return her to original outfit — that symbolizes that he loves her the way that she was — her pure self," said Facio. "He doesn't want this tamed, scared woman...He just wants her to fit within the confines of society. It's not a 'I am man, you are woman' thing...She is not a slave to him. They are equal partners. He even bows down to her at one point."