Andrew Borba is trying to tame The Taming of the Shrew.
The Chautauqua Theater Company artistic director, who succeeded Vivienne Benesch this season, is directing the William Shakespeare play at Chautauqua Institution, but it won’t be the classic take audiences have seen elsewhere. The show begins its run with a preview at 8 p.m. August 12 in Bratton Theater.
Shrew traditionally tells the story of a man’s attempt to woo and tame a woman, the titular shrew. In Borba’s take, things are changing. Namely, the genders.
The shrew, Katherina, will be played by a male actor in a dress and corset, and her suitor, Petruchio, will played by a female actor in pants. The rest of the cast will follow in the same gender-swapped vein.
The idea came to Borba five years ago while talking to a friend about how the play couldn’t be done in a modern context due to the sexism inherent in the taming.
“It’s not about couples owing obedience to each other,” he said about the show in its original form. “It’s about the woman being obedient to the man very specifically, and I just found it to be irredeemable in its message.”
He asked his friend how he would feel if the taming was done to a man, an idea that has stuck with him since.
“I don’t see how this play is done straight up [and] is acceptable in society, so for me it needed a frame. It needed contextualizing,” he said.
The show allowed Borba and Benesch to cast more women in their historically male-majority conservatory. This year, the group is made up of nine women and five men.
Unlike the season’s earlier main stage shows and workshops, which had smaller casts, Shrew uses the entire CTC conservatory, plus guest actors Julia Gibson and Shona Tucker. It comes out to a bloated cast of 16.
Though Borba said it’s sometimes like air traffic control dealing with that many actors on one stage, there’s an advantage to having so many characters.
“When you’re addressing issues of class and status and power, [if you] have more representatives of those … niches in society, it’s easier to tell that story,” he said.
He said the large cast allows them to show a true cross-section of society.
Borba thinks the show is timely and cited sexism he sees directed toward Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a reason why.
“We’re certainly not as a whole respecting women and to do this play now, … it’s marvelous how timely it is,” he said. “It’s devastating and heartbreaking how timely it is.”
He said the show is more of a process than any Shakespeare plays he’s done in the past.
“I really feel that the question I want to ask is, ‘Should anybody be tamed?’ ” he said.