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Dis me, Kate.

SHE LAUGHS BEST WHO LAUGHS LAST--that's a moral one might take from The Tamer Tamed, the little-known Taming of the Shrew sequel by Shakespeare's sometime collaborator John Fletcher (1579-1625). In Fletcher's comedy, Shrew's once-dyspeptic heroine Katherina has died (who can blame her, after what she went through?) and Petruchio has re-married, opting this time for an ostensibly docile female named Maria. Immediately after their wedding, however, the bride refuses to sleep with her new husband, launching at him a barrage of other humiliations calculated to change the power balance in the marriage. After large quantities of male ranting--interrupted at one point by news that local women are rallying to Maria's defense, armed with pots, pans and ladles--Fletcher ponies up a happy ending, complete with a declaration that the play is "meant, / To teach both sexes due equality; / And as they stand bound, to love mutually."

That reassuring sentiment rings out at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C., from Dec. 16 to Jan. 5, when the Royal Shakespeare Company performs The Tamer Tamed in repertory with The Taming of the Shrew. A hit when the company staged it in Stratford-upon-Avon in April, the pairing is the brainchild of director Gregory Doran, who was turned on to Tamer by a Fletcher scholar about seven years ago. Between 1590, when the Bard's Petruchio first called "Kiss me, Kate," and 1611, when Fletcher's play premiered, Doran explains, England experienced "a level of male paranoia about women getting too forthright and assertive. Clearly Fletcher was on the women's side, saying that women should assert themselves, that it was inevitable."

Presenting the misogyny-flavored Shrew in repertory with its sequel turns the former into "a much deeper and more beautiful piece," says Doran, who has cast Jasper Britton as Petruchio in both works, while Alexandra Gilbreath takes on Shrew's Kate and Tamer's Maria. Together, the two plays become a portrait of two people "attempting to redefine relationships," in Doran's words.

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But potential audiences need not fear they're opting for marital counseling at theatre-ticket prices. As evidence of Tamer's entertainment values, Doran points to a scene in which clog-wearing women sing and dance. "It's like an Elizabethan Stomp," he says.

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Title Annotation:Washington, D.C.; Royal Shakespeare Company performs The Tamer Tamed
Author:Wren, Celia
Publication:American Theatre
Geographic Code:1U5DC
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:365
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