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Director makes her Idaho Shakespeare Festival debut with ‘Shrew’

Tracy Young finds a niche for the play in the 1980s

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By Dana Oland – doland@idahostatesman.com
Published: 08/05/11

Tracy Young chooses her words carefully so as not to give too much away about her debut production of “The Taming of the Shrew” which opens at Idaho Shakespeare Festival this weekend.

“Just come and see it,” she says with a laugh.

But by glancing around the rehearsal room, one can deduce a few things: orange furniture and bright pink and green props abound. Hey, is that a Walkman?

Yes, “Shrew” in the 1980s. Finally! We’ve been waiting for an ’80s take on The Bard.

Think “American Gigolo” meets “Pretty in Pink” and you’ll get there.

During rehearsal last week the large company filled the space with crazy amounts of energy and laughter as they learned their choreographed bows. (Don’t worry, Tracy, we won’t give it away.)

It’s clear Young’s “Shrew” will be full of surprises. She is known for creating compelling, visceral, physically dynamic — hysterically funny — theater.

Young is the first new director at the festival in the past five years, and she’s enjoying shaking things up with a new perspective, energy and some serious theatrical lineage.

In college, Young thought she would end up in working in film. Then she fell in with The Actors Gang, a company founded by Tim Robbins in Los Angeles. It’s deeply rooted in the traditions of commedia dell’arte, a highly physical form of storytelling filled with stock characters and pratfalls.

That’s a perfect fit because “Shrew” is Shakespeare’s commedia play.

Young worked with Actors Gang from 1985 to 2001, becoming that company’s first woman to write and direct. She also studied with SITI Company’s Anne Bogart learning her Viewpoints, an approach to theater that allows the actor’s physical perspective to influence the narrative. The idea is that the story is different from wherever you are on stage.

With those two influences, plus her own cheery look on life, she works organically, drawing on the energy and creativity in the room for inspiration.

“I like to get up and start sketching early. Every process is different. For this one, we did get up on our feet pretty early and the actors were bringing a lot of great impulses, which signaled to me we should keep working in this vein.”

It took producing artistic director Charlie Fee two years to get Young to Idaho. That’s when he saw her adaptation of “The Servant and Two Masters” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she directs regularly.

“That production was hysterically funny,” Fee says. “Let me tell you: lights come up and there’s a gigantic, full audience belly laugh at the top of the show. Then it never let up. Her work is incredibly inventive and rhythmically precise and exciting. I knew she’d be a good fit for our company.”

“Shrew” is a challenging play today. The idea of a Kate (Sara M. Bruner) being forcefully “tamed” or controlled by her husband Petruchio (Jim Lichtscheidl) goes against our modern sensibilities. There’s also the way the men barter and bid for the shrewish Kate and sweet Bianca (Kjerstine Rose Anderson).

“This play is so rife with ‘The Art of the Deal,’ the 1980s seemed a natural,” Young says. “There’s no ignoring those perceptions, there’s meeting them, countering them and incorporating the audience perceptions and what they are bringing … to the process.”

She does that by playing with gender games of the 1980s. Think of Annie Lennox in male drag and Boy George anytime.

Young turned to “American Gigolo” for inspiration. Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s (as this play is), Richard Gere plays a male prostitute who ends up being accused of murdering one of his clients.

“There was something about the way that character navigated a world that usually is taken on by a woman,” she says.

For the story of Bianca and her suitors Lucentio (Reggie Gowland) and Hortensio (Eduardo Placer) Young turned to the “Brat Pack” films of John Hughes, such as “The Breakfast Club” and “St. Elmo’s Fire.”

“There was a resonant parallel with all of this at a time when that second-wave feminism of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem was nearing its end. That seemed an interesting convergence,” she says.

So, not to give anything away, but expect a few ’80s pop songs, and iconic characters along the way.

The fact that this late 16th century play fits neatly into the decade of Reaganomics and “Miami Vice” only punctuates why Shakespeare is so great.

“Ultimately the story is deeply about love and partnership and it wrestles with things we continue to wrestle with in our culture just as strongly,” Young says. “It can withstand a great deal of inquiry and still offer up more fruits to anyone who chooses to look.”

© 2011 Idaho Statesman
Click to read full article at Idaho Statesman
Dana Oland: 377-6442