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Performing Arts

Cast members of the upcoming production of “SHREW!” — a new spin on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” — rehearsed for the drag-themed play earlier this week. The show opens at the Bryan Community Center on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 18 and 19, at 7 p.m. Performances are free and open to a 16-and-older public. From left: Olive Cooper, Anna Blair, Milo Strogler, Sasha Kozlova, Nick Beard (in heels) and Ryan Hester donned their Shakespearean personas. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Shakespeare goes drag in ‘SHREW!’

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The Bard is back in Yellow Springs — this time, with a twist.

On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 18 and 19, in the John Bryan Community Center, the Yellow Springs Theater Company will debut a flamboyant rendition of William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” 

True to the famed playwright’s original staging of the 17th century, with men always donning the roles of women, next weekend’s performances will also invoke a great deal of gender bending. Abbreviated to just “SHREW!” the company’s interpretation of the play’s peculiar marriage plot will be one big drag show.

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The titular shrew — that is, Shakespeare’s headstrong, obdurate character, Katherina, who refuses to lend her hand in marriage — will be portrayed as an over-the-top drag queen clad in sky-high heels and layers of flashy makeup.

The rest of the ensemble of area actors, director Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp said, will be just as fabulous.

“I’ve never wanted people to find Shakespeare boring,” Sparrow-Knapp told the News earlier this week. “He’s not! He’s really not!”

To prove that point, Sparrow-Knapp, who founded the local theater company and teaches performance at the middle and high schools, brought the idea to “drag-ify” “Taming of the Shrew” to local producer and thespian Rob Campbell earlier this year. Campbell said he was briefly skeptical, but owing to the queer roots of Shakespearean drama, he was in.

“Yes, drag is topical and at the forefront of national discussions, but there’s precedent of drag in Shakespeare’s works,” Campbell said. “‘Dress as girl,’ or ‘DRAG,’ was written in the cues of his plays. Women couldn’t perform on stage back then, so we’re saying now that women and men can perform as whatever gender they want.”

Though Sparrow-Knapp and Campbell took a number of creative liberties with the script — “taking a rotary cutter to it, to bring it into the 21st century,” Sparrow-Knapp said — “SHREW!” still contains the prosaic diction of the Bard’s original. The plot, with some overt and colorful exceptions, also remains the same.

There’s still Lucentio attempting to court Bianca, but he cannot marry her until Bianca’s shrewish older sister, Katherina, marries. In order to make Katherina his wife, the eccentric Petruchio must first “tame” her into obedience and subservience.

“Shakespearean hijinks ensue from there,” Sparrow-Knapp said of the original play.

Beyond the matter of gender, the differences between that story and the company’s “SHREW!” deal mostly with how the characters resolve their dramas.

“So, we’re not going to have Petruchio and Katherina beat each other up and swing each other all around the stage,” Sparrow-Knapp said. “Drag queens don’t fight like that. They duke it out on the runway.”

And unlike the original, which takes place in Renaissance-era Italian cities, the events of “SHREW!” mostly unfold in dressing rooms — so said the actor playing Katherina, Nathaniel Beard, of Springfield, a lifelong actor whose drag career spans 23 years.

While this is Beard’s debut performance with the Yellow Springs Theater company, audiences will recognize a number of familiar thespians — some of whom are company members, Yellow Springs High School alumni and Antioch College students.

“We’ve had a blast rehearsing for this,” Sparrow-Knapp said with a grin. “Even though there are varying degrees of experience on the stage, this cast is game for anything. Plus, we watched a lot of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ in preparation.”

With the play’s crude humor and “smutty” revisions to the original, Sparrow-Knapp admitted that “SHREW!” might not be for everyone — especially Shakespearean sticklers who go by the book.

“If you’re a purist, you should take a Valium before coming next weekend,” she said.

Because of the adult content — genitalia jokes abound — attendees must be 16 or older.

“SHREW!” runs for only two nights: Friday and Saturday, Aug. 18 and 19, at 7:30 p.m., in the John Bryan Community Center. Performances are open to audiences older than 16 and are free, though donations to the Yellow Springs Theater Company are encouraged.

The cast includes Nick Beard as Baptista Minola, Nathan Beard as Katherina, Maaliyau Amirie as Bianca, Ryan Hester as Petruchio, Emily Parsons as Gremio, Sasha Kozlova as Hortensio, Anna Blair as Lucentio, Olive Cooper as Tranio, Eve Diamond as Biondello and Carrie Staughtler as Vincentio.

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