Monday, October 5, 2015

Kiss Me, Kate: Our Director

Director Susan Abbey remembers the first time she went backstage. It was at the high school in her hometown of Burley, Idaho. “This was potato country, and a high school show was as good as it got.” She was in junior high and a girlfriend’s older sister was in the production of Oklahoma.

 “Seeing the structures of the set, the mechanisms and lights, and the actors back there--in a way it was just as magical as the illusion that was created out front,” she recalls.

 She wanted to tap into that feeling by showing this perspective to the audience of Kiss Me, Kate, partly for the magic but partly to suggest the importance of the theatre itself in the lives of these characters.

 “The people in this play, especially the two leads Fred and Lilli, have lived their lives on the two sides of the stage. Their marriage ended in a theatre world, and it is through the play they are doing, The Taming of the Shrew, that they see themselves and their relationship in a different way.”

 The shifting perspective is part of Derek Lane’s design, reflecting not only the backstage sometimes becoming the stage, but in other ambiguities and reversals.

 “I love Escher’s work, especially when things seem like they’re going up when they’re really going down,” Abbey said, “or the Rubin’s vase, which is either a vase or faces depending on how you look at it. Sometimes when we look at things one way, whether it’s a stage set or a relationship, all it takes is a shift in perspective to see it differently.”

 But what’s also onstage is singing and dancing, almost all the time. “Gino Bloomberg (Fred/Petruchio) is a real triple threat—acting, singing and dancing. Anna Duchi (Lilli/Kate) has a beautiful voice, and a lovely elegant quality about her. Tossa Hayward (Lois/Bianca) brings this Debbie Reynolds energy in contrast to Anna’s elegance.”

 “It’s been a great collaborative process working with Elisabeth Harrington on the singing and Sharon Butcher on choreography. Both of these powerhouse women have really honored the storytelling process. They keep coming back to me and asking, are we telling the story you want to tell?”

 That story particularly involves the relationship of Fred and Lilli, which sometimes spills over into their portrayals of Petruchio and Kate—and then spills back. Telling their tempestuous love story is more difficult given the expected gender roles of Shakespeare’s time, as well as of 1948, the year in which the story is set.

“How you work with the misogyny is again a matter of perspective. Shakespeare’s women are often the smartest ones in the bunch—he seemed to have a real affinity for the female soul. So I look for the truth under the connotations.”

 “Fred is egotistical and proud, and Lilli is angry and proud. But things happen to them in the play to change their perspectives. For one thing, Lilli is involved with the General, a real chauvinist, and Fred sees how badly he treats her, and wonders about himself.”

 “When they both get to the moment that they realize what they’ve done, and realize that if they are both willing to let those go, they can find their truth and strength in each other. They come to a sense of equality—we suggest this visually—and of a choice they both make.”

 “Directing this so those moments are there and clear is really important to me,” Abbey said. “It’s about owning all that you are, as opposed to a role. In this story, two human beings come together and are willing to honor each other and serve each other as equals. It comes from a place of honor, not need. It’s not about the fight. It’s about the willingness to put the armor down.”

No comments: