SHARE
Stu­dents rehearse Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” which they will perform for Shake­speare in the Arb. Courtesy

Springtime in Hillsdale: The sidewalk ice thaws, the snow turns to sleet, then to rain, then to sun­shine, and as the stu­dents begin bravely to venture out of doors, so too do the the­atrical pro­duc­tions.

On May 6 in Slayton Arboretum, the curtain will rise on Shake­speare in the Arb’s 14th annual per­for­mance: Eliz­a­bethan rom-com “The Taming of the Shrew,” starring sophomore Molly Kate Andrews as Katherina, the eponymous shrew, and freshman Mitchell Biggs as her brag­gado­cious suitor Petruchio.

In “The Taming of the Shrew,” Shake­speare attempts to answer one of literature’s age-old ques­tions: What’s a father to do when his comely daughter (Bianca, played by sophomore Rachael Menoksy) is swimming in suitors, but custom dic­tates that the misan­drist elder sister (Andrews’ Kate) must be got rid of first?

For some, the play’s apparent answer induces a cringe: Find a guy who will hold his nose, marry her for money, and carry her off against her will! Indeed, “The Taming of the Shrew” is far from Shakespeare’s most fash­ionable play in our current cul­tural climate. But the direc­torial team of senior Noah Diekemper and junior Nikolai Dignoti have approached the play with an eye toward redeeming the story from its misog­y­nistic rep­u­tation — and re-exca­vating the hilarity of a truly hilarious work.

“When I first approached Petruchio, I saw him as a misog­y­nistic sociopath,” Biggs said. “But there’s clearly a depth to him. He loves Katherina, but in this weird, twisted way he decides that the only way they can be together is if he brings her down to a ‘regular’ level. So he does all these things that are absurd, but his actual intent isn’t as crazy as his exe­cution.”

Both Diekemper and Dignoti are the­atrical vets, but both are new to the directing game.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed about the process is that it isn’t exclu­sively the directors telling the actors what to do,” Dignoti said. “The actors have been very col­lab­o­rative in helping us find new ways to tackle the script without going too far off Shakespeare’s goals, or finding ways to interpret things that might take a very stereo­typ­i­cally misog­y­nistic play and bring it to life in a way that everyone can enjoy.”

Once pro­duction got underway last fall, they got into the groove quickly, with Diekemper pro­viding the overall vision and Dignoti helping the actors to bring that vision to fruition.

“In our setup, the director is the person with whom the buck stops for almost every­thing that goes on, so every com­ponent of the play has to be at least on my radar,” Diekemper said. “Def­i­nitely at the beginning I was inun­dating the actors with a lot of nit­picky notes, which my co-director told me to scale back on. So it’s developed really well.”

The pro­duction follows on the heels of the Tower Players’ pro­duction of “Kiss Me Kate,” a musical set in the 1940s that con­cerns a hor­rendous adap­tation of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

“We con­sulted the theatre department because we had this really fun idea — Oh, they’re doing ‘Kiss Me, Kate,’ so what if we just do ‘Taming of the Shrew’?” Dignoti said. “We thought it’d be very fun to play off the theme there.”

“I thought it would be a nice balance,” Diekemper added, “to be able to see the original after the Cole Porter treatment.”

There’s an added layer of chal­lenge for Shake­speare in the Arb’s pro­duction team to sur­mount beyond merely putting on a quality Shake­speare play. They’ve had to deal with staging a quality Shake­speare play outside.

“Most of Shakespeare’s best works are very long,” Dignoti said. “And making them work for the Arb and for time con­straints like sun­light, heat, bugs — you have a very narrow window to play in. ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is a 120-page play; we cut it down to around 80.”

In addition to keeping runtime man­ageable, Dignoti said, the cuts allowed them to keep the play rel­a­tively family-friendly.

“Really all of Shakespeare’s work is designed to appeal to both the highbrow and the lowbrow,” he said. “You can’t have this really great pun about Vic­torian lead­ership without also including a [sex] joke in the same scene. We tried to strike a balance between keeping some of the fun jokes in there, but not going over­board with them. We’re trying to appeal to full fam­ilies, to as many audi­ences as pos­sible.”

Of course, the best way to keep an audience enter­tained is with knockout acting, and the cast has been happy to oblige.

“Both of our leads, Mitchell Biggs and Molly Kate Andrews, have been amaz­ingly good,” Diekemper said. “They have a ton of lines, and got off-book faster than anyone; they have worked their scenes tire­lessly, they’ve been huge cre­ative forces in the devel­opment of the play, and they’re excep­tional to work with.”

Part of the fun of Petruchio, Biggs said, is in the mis­match between his character’s outsize per­son­ality and his own.

“He’s much louder than I am, much more aggressive than I am,” Biggs said. “He’s fake in the aggression some­times, but serious. He wants to be in control, because he’s not always in control. Finding a balance, knowing when he is and when he isn’t, is chal­lenging.”

But it’s a chal­lenge the whole pro­duction team is excited to bring to the stage.

“It’s an amazing oppor­tunity,” Diekemper said. “Being able to direct a pro­duction is kind of a dream come true, and I’m thrilled with the people I’ve had to work with on this project and what we’ve come up with.

“You should def­i­nitely come see this show.”