Carrie Linquist of Memphis was the first reader last week to let me know Sullivan's Shakespeare-text request of me. Caliban speaks it in The Tempest as the drunken Stephano and Trinculo attempt to sing: "That's not the tune!"

Congratulations, Carrie.

She wins two tickets to see a preview performance of Tennessee Shakespeare Company's production of The Taming of the Shrew in April.

Speaking of previewing Shrew, I thought I would share with you an early draft of writing that will begin to make up the director's notes and the media release for the show. We begin rehearsals in one week. Let me know your thoughts:

Memphis, TN (March 20, 2014) - - Tennessee Shakespeare Company (TSC), the Mid-South's professional classical theatre, presents William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew inside Dixon Gallery and Garden's Winegardner Auditorium from April 23 - May 4 in Memphis.

Directed by TSC's Founder and Producing Artistic Director, Dan McCleary (Hamlet, The Tempest, Glass Menagerie, Macbeth, Othello, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It), this roaring '20s production is sponsored by Ann and Wellford Tabor. The exclusive media sponsor is CA Media/

Likely inspired by the European traveling troupes performing Commedia dell'arte, William Shakespeare composed either or both The Taming of the Shrew and The Taming of a Shrew between 1590-1594. Commedia was a comedy of broad humors that cast skilled actors and clowns in stock character roles, playing traditional storylines but with improvisations employing daily news and lazzi (gags, bits).

With a familiarity and even popularity today that rivals that of over 400 years ago, Shrew features a famous pair of hard-headed, though soft-hearted, lovers in Kate and Petruchio as they make their way from an impossible first date, through a rushed marriage and famished honeymoon, and finally a rare coming-together that is often staged as many ways as there are productions.

Though the play is the earliest comedy of Shakespeare's, its structure reflects an innovative synthesis of several traditional motifs and plots that would become signature pleasure in his later writing. He deftly combines the ubiquitous shrew-taming folklore with the wooing of a young lady by multiple suitors with the gulling of a penniless man into believing he is happily wived and wealthy.

Perhaps most importantly, centered in this craftily constructed comedy is a reformation of the shrew-taming tradition on the stage. Prior to his writing, the "taming" had been almost entirely physical and quite brutal - a human Punch and Judy show. And while physical pains are not absent in The Taming of the Shrew, they are shared and even self-inflicted. There is an immediate depth of feeling and intelligence shared by the featured lovers that identify Shakespeare as an early-career playwright compelled by human psychology.

"Not unlike Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, also originally defined as a comedy," says McCleary, "Shrew's modern controversy surrounding the treatment of women in the play is inevitable. We could not produce the play unless we embraced the controversy and addressed it. My experience with the play is that the depth of feeling, even of immediately discovering a soul-mate, as impossible as that may be to consciously understand and accept, lies more at the heart of this play than Petruchio making Kate submissive to him in marriage.

"I think it is a very fine, even modern love story. Two independent people, with their lives bent in one direction and playing a role that gets each attention, submit to one another through their opposition."

The TSC production will place the story in 1927 Memphis in the newly-constructed home of Hugo Dixon on Park Avenue. The play titled The Taming of the Shrew breaks out without planning when, after Mr. Dixon's singer for the evening passes out drunk and awakes to a conceit of his being married to Mr. Dixon's maid and owning the estate, a traveling group of vaudevillians show up and put on a play of "mirth and merriment" for Mr. Dixon's 200 guests.

"TSC works environmentally all the time, but we have never quite been this site-specific," says McCleary. "The Dixon Gallery & Gardens was created out of the generosity of Hugo and Margaret Dixon. They were also great patrons of the arts. So, we hope we honor their memory by portraying Mr. Dixon on stage in the induction and then drafting him into the play.

"The year and geography also give us an opportunity to respond to the Jim Crow-law positions of submission for people of color in America, both socially and in the entertainment industry. What would have been illegal in 1927 will be given opportunities to blossom in this story."

The company

The Taming of the Shrew features a professional AEA company of 17 actors and musicians from around the country and Memphis.

The cast introduces MaConnia Chesser as Kate, Paul Kiernan as Petruchio, Lauren Ballard as Bianca, Mark McCarthy as Tranio, Andrew Joseph Perez as Lucentio, Ben Reed as Hortensio, and as servers Jessica Weaver, Isabel Azar, and Peri Beckerman.

Returning to TSC are Brian Sheppard (Hamlet) as Hugo Dixon and Grumio, Cara McHugh (Romeo and Juliet) as Biondella; and Memphis' Phil Darius Wallace (Hamlet, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It) as Gremio, Stuart Heyman (As You Like It, Othello) as Baptista, Bradly Kroeker (It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play) as Vincentio, Lorraine Cotton (It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play) as Tailer/Haberdasher/Pedant/Widow, and David Rhea (Macbeth) as Curtis.

Playing piano live on stage is local musician and Music Arranger Steven DiBlasi (Hamlet). Compositions will include those by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Scott Joplin, and Lorenz Hart.

The design team includes Memphian Bruce Bui (costumes), Elliot LaPlante (scenic and properties) with Kristen Greene, Taylor Starr Knight (lighting), and Neil Freeman (First Folio). Dramaturgy is by Chandra Owenby Hopkins. Scott Roberson is the Technical Director, and the stage managers are Melissa A. Nathan with Catie Broadwater.

The induction

Hugo Dixon, art collector, arts patron, and generous friend to Memphis, welcomes 200 of his closest friends to the 1927 formal opening of his new home and estate on Park Avenue - the future (and current for 2014) Dixon Gallery & Gardens.

As guests arrive to passed cocktails and appetizers, they are escorted into Mr. Dixon's study, which has been fashionably furnished and outfitted with choice collectibles from around the world - portraits, landscapes, statues, glassware, porcelain, piano, musical instruments, weapons.

Part of the entertainment, prior to dinner, is a singer named Christopher Sly, who, though drinking his way through three shakers of martinis, sings the new standards by Berlin, Rodgers, Hart, and Jolson. By the time that Sly passes out in front of Hugo's guests, an itinerant company of vaudeville and stage actors arrive at the side door looking for bed and board for the evening in exchange for any show the proprietor would like.

The sting

A conceit is arranged and acted that awakes Sly, convinces him he has been in a coma for over a decade and is married to Mr. Dixon's maid and owns Mr. Dixon's house. To celebrate the newly-discovered nuptial, Sly and Hugo call for a play of "mirth and merriment" that drafts both Hugo and his maid into the improvised play known as The Taming of the Shrew. The dinner will wait.

The story of the play within the play

To be continued...

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Guest Blogger: Dan McCleary Dan McCleary is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director of Tennessee Shakespeare Company, the Mid-South’s professional, classical theatre and education organization based in Memphis.  Dan has made a living as a classical stage actor, Shakespeare master teacher, producer, artist-manager, and stage director around the country for 25 years. Memphis Magazine named him among the “Who’s Who in Memphis” each year from 2009-12, and the Germantown Arts Alliance honored him with its 2009 Distinguished Arts and Humanities Medal for Performing Arts.  Dan is a published poet, and he holds a B.A. in Advertising and Journalism from Temple University.  Dan is the proud father of three-year-old twin boys, Sullivan and Collins.

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