It’s show time!
Bay Ridgeites are once again gearing up for the annual Shakespeare in the Park production at Narrows Botanical Garden, now in its fifth year. Presented by Act-Out! Acting School, this year artistic director John Stillwaggon along with veteran and new cast members will reinterpret the playwright’s famous comedy “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Stillwaggon is excited to tackle the show, as he found it to be relevant to today’s social issues. “I’ve always been taken by this play because it’s an interesting and entertaining battle of the sexes. It’s an interesting analysis on gender roles,” said Stillwaggon, who has directed all but one of the local Shakespeare in the Park productions.
Although the director and company initially planned to stay very true to the source material, one of the actors made a suggestion that changed the dynamic of the show.
“With this production, I had initially cast male actor Romo Hallahan as Petruchio and Sara Minisquero as Katherine. One of our veteran actors, Mohammed Saad Ali, said what if you switched the leads? What if Kate was a man and Petruchio was a woman,” Stillwaggon recalled. “At first, I laughed.”
However, the more Stillwaggon thought about it, the more he saw it as an opportunity to make a statement on today’s views of gender roles as well as questioning the expectations of men and women in society.
“Over the course of the show, Petruchio tames Kate and pushes her against her will to be a kind and tame and loving wife. He forces her to marry him and pushes her to be a wife. Most people consider that misogynistic in modern day age,” he explained. “But when you switch roles, and a woman is forcing a man to alter, that’s the plot of romantic comedy for 20 years, the process of whipping a man into shape until he becomes tame and submissive. That’s comedy and what is expected.”
According to Stillwaggon, who noted that Minisquero is also serving as assistant director, one of the strengths of the production is the close relationship between the cast and crew. “They’ve been doing a great job. It’s been a real ensemble. They’re very devoted and committed to the development of the characters,” he said. “We have a good core group of students and professional actors. We are also always welcoming new members. Every year, it’s a mix of veterans and great, new talent. There are specific people that have been able to develop chemistry over years. It’s a real family but it’s also family with an open door.”
Another unique aspect of these performances is the setting. “It’s really a blessing to have Narrows Botanical Garden be our home over the years,” he added. “The garden itself is beautiful and we start the plays at 7 p.m. so that sun is tending to set just as play is ending. It creates really beautiful set-up. “
Audiences also look forward to the yearly event. “’ We have developed a nice little following, a great audience to perform for,” he said. “People come up after and say ‘I never thought I liked Shakespeare but this made sense.’ One of our major goals and missions is to make these great shows accessible to a modern audience.”
“The Taming of the Shrew” will be performed Saturday, July 18; Sunday, July 19; Saturday, July 25; and Sunday, July 26. All performances will begin at 7 p.m. at Narrows Botanical Garden, 7200 Shore Road. There is a suggested donation of $10 with proceeds benefitting Narrows Botanical Garden. For tickets or more information, contact Artistic Director John Stillwaggon at 347-720-0235, or john_Stillwaggon@yahoo.com.