The Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany is moving Shakespeare into the 20th century, but just how that changes the story line for its production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” and how a 21st century audience is going to feel about it, well, you’re just going to have to come to the show and see for yourself.
The play previews tonight at 8 and officially opens on Wednesday with Kim Stauffer playing Kate, the female lead who in the opinion of some modern-day critics falls short of being a positive role model for today’s women. It’s the issue of gender stereotyping that causes some Shakespeare fans to think twice about how they like “The Taming of the Shrew,” but it’s a problem that Stauffer, a native of Lancaster, Pa., has addressed with Capital Rep producing artistic director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, who is also directing this production.
“It’s something Maggie and I talked about way back at my audition, and she wanted to make sure that whoever ended up getting the role, they were going to be true to Shakespeare’s vision,” said Stauffer, a New York City-based actor who performed as Emily Proctor last spring in Capital Rep’s production of “The Crucible.”
“There are a million ways to look at it, and some people will have issues with it. I’m not going to say too much about it right now and I don’t want to give away the ending, but people should come and see how we’re doing it. What’s more important is, does it upset you? Great, tell me why, and if you like it and it moves you, great, tell me why.”
In the 16th-century version, Kate is the beautiful but shrewish daughter of a wealthy Italian merchant, who is visited by three men hoping to court his other daughter, Bianca. The Capital Rep production hasn’t changed much of that premise, but Mancinelli-Cahill did move the setting from Shakespeare’s time to 1950s Italy.
“Italian style was virtually casting a spell of enchantment over American popular culture, but I wanted to set the play in this era because it was a time when women were beginning to test their mettle with men and yet they were still bound by society’s conventions of femininity,” she said.
“Kate struggled with this in 16th-century Italy, just as her more modern-day counterparts were in the fifties. I view the attraction between Kate and Petruchio as similar to the comedic battle of wits chemistry you see 500 years later between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.”
“The Taming of the Shrew,” while never a big hit on Broadway, did enjoy two nice runs in London, the first coming in 1927 when Mary Ellis and Basil Sidney played the leads for 175 performances. The second, with the husband-and-wife team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, ran for 129 performances in 1935, much longer than the Broadway productions in 1940 (just eight shows) and 1960 (17 shows).
A musical version in 1948, called “Kiss Me Kate,” was a big hit, running for three years on Broadway and winning five Tony Awards, while a revival of that musical in 2000 also scored big, winning a Tony for Brian Stokes Mitchell.
Playing opposite Stauffer as Petruchio is Eric Martin Brown, who has performed on Broadway, while other cast members include Capital Region actors Terry Rabine as Baptista, Ron Haber as Vincentio and Corine Salon and Michele MacShane in multiple roles.
While Stauffer has quite an impressive resume of Shakespeare credits, she never before has had the opportunity to play Kate.
“I’m thrilled to get this part because I love doing classical work, and I just think it’s a real juicy role for a woman,” said Stauffer, who did a whole season of Shakespeare productions in Washington, D.C., during the 2004-2005 season. “I think she’s a wonderful character. She’s strong and she’s fierce, but she’s a great challenge because the character makes a great arc throughout the play. You get to see the great wisdom she possesses, and you see that the change she is going through is quite extreme.”
Stauffer got a late start on her acting career, preferring to remain off the stage until her final year of high school.
“I always loved acting, but I was much more quiet in high school and introverted,” she said. “That’s why I was always involved in costumes and hair and makeup for other people. Then I finally worked up the nerve to audition when I was a senior in high school and I got cast for the lead. It was a great way to come out of my shell. That’s another reason this role is so much for me. I’m playing someone who is very different from me. That makes it fun, and that’s the challenge.”
Stauffer majored in theater and social services at Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Va., graduating from there in 1999, but then went on to the University of North Carolina in Greensboro to get her master of fine arts degree in acting.
“I was ready to be a social worker before I decided to take the plunge into acting,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve done a lot of regional work and I’ve been doing a lot of commercial work right in the city lately. New York is my home now, and I’m heading back there as soon as I’m done here and start auditioning. I have a few irons on the fire, but I don’t want to say anything just yet and jinx them.”
‘The Taming of the Shrew’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Through March 23. Previews 8 tonight and through Tuesday; opens 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; show times 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. Sundays.
HOW MUCH: $44 to $32
MORE INFO: 445-7469 or www.capitalrep.org