after William Shakespeare
script by Leta Popescu from the adaptation by Maria Manolescu
translation of Shakeaspeare's text into Romanian by Violeta Popa
director: Leta Popescu
set and costumes design: Bogdan Spătaru
music: Radu Dogaru
choreographer: Andrea Gavriliu
assistant director and video editor: Irina Caraulă
assistent choreographer: Ioana Moldovan
lighting design: Jenel Moldovan
stage manager: Răzvan Pojonie
lighting technician: Andrei Mitran
sound technician: Vlad Negrea
video technician: Vasile Crăciun
prompter: Irina Barbir
Upon hearing the phrase “The Taming of the Shrew”, many of us probably think of the crazy love story between Petruccio and Caterina, the well-known couple from William Shakespeare’s work: Caterine is a woman whom nobody is courting, because she has a volcanic temperament and a penchant for loud criticism. Petruccio is a man who, desiring the girl’s wealth, is willing to get her by any means necessary. As the story unfolds, their dynamic changes, and – in the idyllic version of the text – they become a solid couple. The question is: Can we tell a 17th century love story between a man and a woman today, in 2023? Can we tell it in the same manner? Seeking answers to these questions, our show is a battleground between men and women, between classical and contemporary theatre, between conservative and progressive ideas, while never losing sight of Shakespeare’s story. Based on the adaptation by the contemporary author Maria Manolescu, the director Leta Popescu writes an original screenplay and produces a play within a play, presenting the multiple layers of male-female dynamics.
“I took advantage of Shakespeare’s own format of choice from the original version, namely a play within a play. The prologue provided by the author tells us that Caterina and Petruccio’s story is being performed in front of an audience who are unfamiliar with the theatre and whose reactions are therefore “untamed”. This frame means that our show also has multiple layers, offering more – I hope – than a common reading of the play. The spectators can watch ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ in two versions, which give contradictory answers to the question: is “taming” a seduction ritual while pursuing a woman or does it simply imply “brutalizing”, “dehumanizing” the individual? Personally, I cannot choose one answer. Not because I am an indecisive person, on the contrary. I am very keen on looking at various modes of reading and interpretations which exist today, on comparing and contrasting them. This can only produce an explosion of ideas, which fascinates me as a director. I’d rather open up the debate and keep thinking about who must be tamed by whom: The woman? The man? The public? The theatre maker? In the end, there is also a clearer commentary on my part. But I won’t reveal it; I invite you all to discover it during the show.”
(...) These fierce playwrights use a literary metaphor: the insect in Kafka's short story, The Metamorphosis. Of course, it is a form of defiance. Shakespeare has nothing in common with communism or Kafka. Thus, the show evolves: it becomes a sardonic essayistic collage treated as a generalized parody. The lines are comical, there is a lot of laughter, a lot of applause. Adrian Cucu hits the nail on the head in his final monologue. Why do we go to the theater? Isn't it for the sake of amusement? This project authored by women who chose to keep Shakespeare's title is jubilatory; it uses the original text on a whim, in unexpected ways. We have prevailed! they say, victoriously. Which makes their show a success with the public.
(...) The story takes place during communism, when marriage took place as quickly as a Tinder match, as one line in the play suggests. In this universe, modeled on the historical context, there is a series of more contemporary cultural references, from the radio station Free Europe to a DJ set playing electronic music and even astrology (...) everything is, in fact, an exercise in the representation and treatment of women in society. The actresses make corrections to the roles and professions, feminizing them: it is a "woman playwright" [in Romanian - dramaturgă (translator's note)], not just a "playwright"; they also believe that taming a woman actually means "brutalizing" her through submission to a man. And the date of the premiere - March 8th - is yet another clue regarding the feminist message which comes to light as the show unfolds.
(...) The show takes shape amongst us (or it unfolds amongst us, with everything being functionally calculated to catch us, to engulf us in its mechanisms). Therefore, there is something like a series of hooks (...) we are caught in a tridimensional Pirandellian simulation. I enjoyed the rhythm; it jolted me into focus in the best way possible and made that focus sharper. Everything is like a slingshot, making you tense in your seat, making you want to go exploring - in the foyer, in the hall, amongst other seats, spectators, within yourself. And it's amazing that the show is literally made,not just sketched. It is phenomenally well-dosed, so that the adrenaline endures and is the lifeblood of the show (...) Thus, we are dealing with a cocoon-structure: the exterior is contemporary theater (à la meta-Leta), with a simple but difficult to enact algorithm (and admirable as far as effort goes) and the algorithm's task is to reorder the chaos (...) it is a beautiful, good, effective process; I was there with the audience, I was the audience, the audience was the show (literally, at certain points) (...) there is huge ambition here (which is also fulfilled), there is a textual mastodon with a brilliant structure, which might even be perfected in time, due to reviews like this one or better reviews or other people.
Reality inundates the stage... the director, the prompter, the technical director, the usherettes, they all become characters constantly "seeking" a new director. Is the first version the right one, the version containing wondrous suggestions? He who was saying "free Shakespeare from communism!" was also right. It's not quite like that, not everything fits everything, but a simplistic, schematic, summarizing interpretation is useless. Which version do we pick? The jury is still out; the notion of taming receives more and more meanings and categories, while the parody produces "an explosion of ideas" (as Leta Popescu rightly argues) (...) A captivating, challenging, refreshing show.
Alexandru Jurcan, "Free Shakespeare from Communism!",
In the magazine Tribuna, no. 494, 1-15 April 2023
Leta Popescu's show is ultra-minimalistic from the point of view of scenography, but it does make use of technology, in order to highlight certain aspects and to address - with a lot of irony and self-deprecation - the problems of theater. The show effectively explores the complex, organic world of theater, inspecting under a microscope - at times even literally - the most problematic aspects. All the characters from this universe of theater within the theater within the theater are carefully and patiently constructed, even when they are hilarious or ridiculous, in order to get the public's attention. And the show is not only about theater per se, but also about society, past and present, which leaves its mark on our evolution and determines our life, about human relationships: how we regard each other and ourselves, more or less trustingly and confidently. And everything is seen through a comical lens: linguistic and situational comedy, both of which are very well employed. It is a well-built artistic structure, with a lot of creativity, developed on multiple narrative planes, which turn you (the knowledgeable or ignorant spectator) into an active participant.
What Leta Popescu does in The Untamed Shrew is to ask us and herself a lot of questions, while also making fun of us and herself. This goes for theater (why & how), as well as our moral, social and political values. Some would call it relativism. I see it as a form of courage. The courage to fight the gods (in a Pantheon which, out of spite, loses one of its decorative Fellner & Helmer angels) based on doubt rather than certainty. Continuing to walk on a path full of mist, smoke and shadows, keeping one's eyes and ears wide open to the left and to the right. Is this the right path? Was that lady right? Or that man? The actor? The usher? The spectator?
Thus, the show asks questions with childish curiosity. It even contests itself and, despite a healthy number of addressed problems, it manages to stay diaphanous, entertaining and dynamic. William Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" can be a risky bet in 2023, but "The Untamed Shrew" is no such thing. It brings the story into new territory, into new types of discourse, and employs theater in the most Shakespearean manner possible.
Leta Popescu gathers all these visions in a popular theater performance, rejecting any sort of precious or militant approach and sitting at the intersection of these perspectives, requirements and realities to ask (herself) honestly: and now, where do we go in theater? Dynamic, performed most energetically by the actors of the National Theater, The Untamed Shrew manages to avoid imposing a conclusion; instead, it questions the polarized perspectives on theater and the dramatic arts.
Because taming turns out to be dangerously similar to dehumanization, in a contemporary marriage the woman can become a butterfly or a "she-bug", according to the director. The public can no longer laugh at the obsolete war between women and men, as the great dramatist presented it. In her show, Leta Popescu offers a comical representation of an untamed shrew, who is born out of intergenerational conflict, the contradictions between old and new, past and present mentalities, as well as the times that we live in and that we try to tame.
• William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, on April 23rd 1564. / Leta Popescu, on January 8th1989, in Galați.
• His father, John Shakespeare, becomes a successful merchant, moving up the ladder of local administration. His mother, Mary Arden, came from a very respectable family. In 1582, he married Anne Hathaway in Stratford and they had three children. / Leta Popescu studied at the "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" Highschool in Galați, where, taking various acting classes, she devoted herself to theatrical activities; she wrote plays and directed them.
• Shakespeare's activity began around the year 1590. /Leta Popescu started taking an interest in theater at the age of 12.
• Shakespeare moved to London in 1587. / Leta Popescu moved to Cluj in 2010, after a failed attempt to enroll at UNATC in Bucharest.
• There are certain traces of Shakespeare's presence and success in London dating back to 1592, the year when he starts gradually publishing his poetical and dramatic work. As an actor, Shakespeare was mentioned in the reports of the Royal Council, as having been rewarded by Queen Elizabeth, alongside William Kempe and Richard Burbage; they had performed at court at the end of 1594. In 1599, he became an associate of the Globe Theater. / Leta Popescu graduated from the Faculty of Theater and Film, UBB Cluj, Directing, in 2013. She began her doctoral studies in 2017. At the same time, she started producing shows at theaters in Timișoara, Cluj-Napoca, Craiova, Târgu Mureș, Gheorgheni, Sibiu, as well as independent theaters (Reactor, The Paintbrush Factory in Cluj, Zug.zone, Teatru3G Târgu Mureș, Replika Bucharest). She created her own projects. She is interested in contemporary dramaturgy and the production of her own dramatizations.
• In the final years of his life, Shakespeare retired to Stratford and died a month after he had written his testament, on the same day he was born but 52 years later, on April 23rd 1616.
By Eugenia Sarvari
I think that rewritings are important; they show the passing of time and the work we do in order to free ourselves from various canons: a way to rethink and write which we might not even be aware of, because we have been tamed. Rewriting Shakespeare, I wanted to spend some time with him, listening to him, learning, while also responding or daring to contradict him when it seemed to me that he was no longer relevant or helpful, when I didn't resonate with what he wrote, when I felt it was wrong or even harmful. It was a long process, with many drafts, attempts and do-overs, by the end of which I produced a sort of homage to Shakespeare as I see him: funny but also emotional and full of truth, inspiring us to meditate and above all to emancipate ourselves in relation to the more or less subtle taming that we are often subject to. I kept a few characters, situations, images, lines and a certain pleasure of theater within the theater, but I wrote my own story. Then, the director Leta Popescu read my text and told me what I myself had told Shakespeare, in my mind: that there are certain things in my text that she can't resonate with. That she wants to keep a few of my characters, situations, images, lines - and to write her own story. Something cool happened to me then - to my ego. It was knocked out. It broke like a mirror in which I had only seen myself and, once the mirror broke, I managed to see past it the long line of storytellers who have contributed to the popular tales of tamed women. Shakespeare merely rewrote the tale for the stage and, so, it reached us: me, Leta, the actors and actresses who also rewrote Leta's text when onstage, the public who will rewrite it while watching the show. We are all trying to free ourselves but we remain tied to each other. I don't exactly know what we are supposed to do with those ties. But I still believe that rewritings are important, because they show the passing of time and the work we do in order to free ourselves from various canons: a way to rethink and write which we might not even be aware of, because we have been tamed.
March 1st 2023
Leta Popescu is on her eighth collaboration with the National Theater of Cluj-Napoca. She was assistant director for the shows The Nameless Star by Mihail Sebastian (directed by Alexa Visarion), Sânziana and Pepelea by Vasile Alecsandri (directed by Alexandru Dabija), Mein Kampf by George Tabori (directed by Alexandru Dabija) and Extraterrestrial Clowns (directed by Eli Simon). She directed the shows American Dream by Nicoleta Esinescu in the "Art Club" Studio and Call It Art, based on a concept by Alexa Băcanu and Leta Popescu, for which she received the "Mona Marian" Award for young creatives, at the Award Gala of the National Theater of Cluj-Napoca, 2016.
She graduated from the Faculty of Theater and Film, UBB Cluj, Directing (2013) and is now pursuing a PhD at the same university. For her work on the show Parallel, produced at the Paintbrush Factory in Cluj, Leta Popescu received the Debut UNITER Award 2014 together with Lucia Mărgineanu, who performed in the show, and Ferenc Sinkó, the co-director and choreographer of the show. Since 2013, she has worked for state and independent theaters, as well.
The current rehearsals are for The Taming of the Shrew, based on W. Shakespeare's text. I used this opportunity to ask her a few questions.
How and why did you choose this text? What "possessed" you to engage with it - in your own words, as you wrote on the show's facebook page?
In the last two years I have been (and I am still) looking for a form of "popular theater" to my taste, which could also answer my artistic queries and entertain a wider audience. Since graduation (2013), I only worked in studios, on contemporary Romanian and (local) Hungarian dramaturgy. When the pandemic ended, I thought it was high time I addressed a wider audience which was coming back to the theater. This decision turned into a directorial project and, since then, I have asked each theater manager to allow me to work in the great hall and I promised I would produce a popular show, that is, a comedy. Lucky managers! Lucky me, as well, of course, because I can't do anything without comedy.
The Taming of the Shrew was part of this decision but brought something more: the chance to use a classical text. I invited Maria Manolescu to rewrite the original text, because no, I was not interested in Shakespeare's complete text but rather in the question "how can we produce this show today?" This was the itch. This was where I got stubborn. This was where we got stuck. But I like giving myself difficult homework, so I am very pleased when I feel that I've succeeded: like scratching an itch. I hope that the encounter with the public will be a definitive cure.
How did you reach the current form of the text? I am asking this question bearing in mind what I read in Vito Pandolfi's History of World Theater regarding Shakespeare's times: "The text of each role would travel in manuscript (...) It was like being part of a grand collective creative project".
In our case, too, the final text bears all of our signatures. Maria Manolescu rewrote Shakespeare's text, I rewrote Maria's rewriting, and the actors rewrote my text. Diana Buluga and Sânziana Tarța played an essential role in completing the show, since they play the parts of the director and the author, our alter egos. Then, Cecilia Donat, who plays the part of Catarina, carefully assembled her character, while Irina Wintze made countless suggestions regarding the text; ultimately, most of the actors and actresses have worked with great care and I'm sure they will continue to do so, especially in those moments of interactive improvisation, conducted by Adrian Cucu and Radu Lărgeanu.
How was it to work with the actors of the National Theater on a show produced in the great hall?
The team at the National Theater of Cluj is familiar to me. I have worked with some of them before, including some of the actors and actresses from the cast of The Taming of the Shrew. We met while working at the National Theater (on American Dream and Call It Art) or Reactor (on (IN)CORRECT and Step Out of the Sun). We also became pretty well acquainted through my work as an assistant director during my years as a student and through the university itself. Thus, the encounter with the cast was, in fact, a reencounter. The National Theater of Cluj has an open, considerate, creative and united team. The fact that we produced the show in the great hall wasn't really stressful, I had worked in a big hall before, in Târgu Mureș in 2021, on the show Unsaid Things; their hall is ever bigger than the one in Cluj, with a similar number of seats. In the same program devoted to popular theater, I also worked on the show The Sparrow in Galați and on People You No Longer Love in Arad, so it's my fourth popular show and I have got used to it. I miss the intimacy of the studio, but if the universe is kind to me, I'll have enough time for that, as well.
March 2nd 2023
By Eugenia Sarvari
CONTACT THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF CLUJ-NAPOCA P-ţa Ştefan cel Mare nr. 2-4 Cluj-Napoca, 400192 Romania