MARSHALL – At first, they sound like three subjects that have nothing to do with each other: politics, reality TV and Shakespeare.
But modern influences and classic comedy go hand-in-hand for Southwest Minnesota State University Theater’s first shows of the season. Starting tonight, students will star in two comedies that take different approaches to William Shakespeare “The Taming of the Shrew.”
“Taming the Shrew” opens Friday night at the SMSU Fine Arts Theater, and “taming”, a play inspired by Shakespeare’s comedy, opens tonight.
Producing two plays at the same time is a unique twist for SMSU Theatre, said Professor Nadine Purvis Schmidt, who directed both productions.
“We are always looking for things that are new experiences,” she says. “It was so interesting to have two different shows talking to each other.”
Although the two pieces have common themes, they take different approaches. In “The Taming of the Shrew,” comedy ensues when suitors pursue two sisters with very different temperaments. Sweet Bianca has been forbidden to marry unless her sister, the argumentative and wicked Katherine, marries first. Petruchio, a man in search of adventure and a wealthy woman, decides to “tame” and marry Katherine. Cast members say this production of “Taming the Shrew” places the characters in a setting inspired by today’s reality TV shows.
Meanwhile, “taming”, a comedy by Lauren Gunderson, takes elements of Shakespeare’s play and adapts them to the world of American politics. In the play, Katherine, a Miss America contestant with big ambitions, kidnaps the aide of a conservative senator and a liberal activist blogger, and locks them together in a hotel room. Katherine won’t let the two women go until they overcome their differences and help her write a new Constitution.
With two plays in production at the same time, students take on multiple roles, both on stage and as part of a team. Bryn Mongeau, an SMSU junior, stars as Katherine in both shows.
“They are both very, very ambitious characters” said Mongeau. Although the two Katherines have different styles, there is a lot of humor between them. “I think they’re definitely very connected.”
Mongeau and fellow cast members Tailer Benson and Kelsey House also take on several roles within “taming”. House said some of the characters she plays are worlds apart.
Benson said she enjoys playing Patricia, the driven Congressional aide in “taming”.
“I think Pat has a really nice character arc,” Benson said. At the start of the play, she said: “She’s very intense, it’s like ‘my way or the highway’.” Benson said Patricia was growing to become more willing to work with others.
Cast and crew members said it was fun to work with the comedic elements of both plays, as well as playing Shakespeare. Although “Taming the Shrew” is a play over 400 years old, its humor is still lively and wacky, they said.
“It’s a bit like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was written by Mel Brooks,” said Brady Berg. Berg, an SMSU senior, will play Petruchio.
“Taming the Shrew” cast members said performing using Shakespeare’s language was a fun experience. Mongeau said the aloud lines made a big difference in shaping her performance.
“It’s almost like memorizing a song,” senior TJ Tjeerdsma spoke about learning the lines. Tjeerdsma will play the role of Bianca.
“For me, I love learning to use the language,” said Alexander Castro, an SMSU junior playing several different roles in “Taming the shrew.” “No one writes like that anymore.”
“The Taming” and “The Taming of the Shrew” will both begin performances this week, with alternate show times. “The Taming” performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. on October 20, 28 and 29 and at 2 p.m. on October 22. “The Taming of the Shrew” performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. on October 21 and 22 and at 2 p.m. on October 29 and 30. All performances will take place at the SMSU Fine Arts Theater.
Tickets are available at www.SMSUtickets.com as well as at the door. Performances are free for SMSU students with a valid student ID.