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East stages 'Shrew' in the funky '70s

Bianca, played by Ellen Roubik, contemplates her two suitors disguised as tutors played by Copper Petermeier, Christian Chederquist in a rehearsal of East High School Theatre's "Taming of the Shrew." (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 4
Katherina, left, played by junior Ciera Dastoor, reacts poorly to her mother Baptista, played by junior Agatha Pokrzywinski, excited approval of Kate's betrothal to Petruchio, played by senior John Kroska, in East's production of "The Taming of the Shrew." (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 4
John Kroska, playing the role of Petruchio, jokes around with Bianca's potential suitors played by Andrew Miller and Shayni Gustafson. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 4
Petruchio, played by John Kroska, attempts to woo the stubborn Katherina, played by Ciera Dastoor in "The Taming of the Shrew" (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 4

Students at East High School are updating a Shakespearean classic comedy by setting it in the more recent past. The spring production of "The Taming of the Shrew," guest-directed by John Pokrzywinski, takes place in the early 1970s in order to add balance to the power struggle between the sexes.

"I don't think Shakespeare meant this play to be sexist, but if you read the words, just the words alone, without prior knowledge, it's awful. There are lines where Petruchio will call Kate his property," said junior Agatha Pokrzywinski. "In our world today, you can't do a play like that without changing it. The way we're doing this, we're trying to give back some of the power."

Pokrzywinski, daughter of director John Pokrzywinski, plays Baptista, a role traditionally played by a man. She says changing the gender of Baptista changes the dynamic between her and her character's daughters Katherina and Bianca.

"It adds a whole extra layer to the relationship," Pokrzywinski said. "Baptista is now a widow, living on her own who manages to maintain an impressive amount of wealth and power. She's a woman who knows how to thrive in a man's world, through flirting and maintaining control. And she tries to impress this upon her daughters. Bianca seems to get it. Kate, not so much."

The main plot depicts the courtship of Katherina, or Kate, to a gentleman named Petruchio. Katherina, Baptista's eldest daughter, is considered a stubborn, obstinate woman, while the younger Bianca attracts many suitors. However Baptista rules that Bianca cannot marry until Katherina is wed, urging Bianca's suitors to find a husband for Kate. Katherina seems to have met her match when she meets Petruchio.

"He meets her on her own level. He's just as stubborn as she is. They fight a lot, but they're kind of a perfect match," said junior Ciera Dastoor, who plays Katherina in the show.

Dastoor said she's enjoying delving into her character and the text to prepare for the show. "I love scanning the text and delving into the text to figure out what I'm really saying. I like to look for the hidden messages that Shakespeare leaves in there. It's more strenuous than a normal play because you have to memorize your lines and know exactly how Shakespeare wanted you to say them. But everything is there in the text," Dastoor said.

Dastoor's Petruchio is played by senior John Kroska, in his second role on stage in a high school play. Kroska said he's happy to be performing Shakespeare because a passion for the text runs in his family.

"My grandma actually does Great River Shakespeare festival in Winona, so I was very familiar with Shakespearean text and syntax and scansion before doing this play," Kroska said. "She's coming on opening night, which is pretty exciting."

One part of the show Kroska's found particularly fun is the '70s costuming.

"Any day you get to wear parachute pants and an ascot is a good day," Kroska said.

Independent costumer Sue Boorsma said she agreed to do the show due to the '70s theme.

"Generally Shakespeare is done in Elizabethan garb, which is beautiful, but also an outrageous amount of work," Boorsma said. "So when John asked me to do a Shakespeare show, I was hesitant. But then he said, no, no we're thinking 1968 to 1972. And I though, now that sounds pretty fun. And it has been just a treat to find these clothes."

Flare legged pants, ascots, floral prints, paisley designs, and jeans for both men and women are some of the pieces hanging in the East High School costume room. Boorsma said she looked to the late '60s and early '70s TV show "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" for inspiration.

"It was a changing time for both men and women. Before then, women had to wear dresses or skirts all the time, unless they working on a farm. Suddenly you have women wearing jeans to rebel," Boorsma said. "And it became acceptable for men to wear ripped jeans and pants with those little flares added to the bottom. It's a fun time."

Performances of The Taming of the Shrew begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27. Tickets are $5 students, $10 adults and available at the door.

If you go

What: The Taming of the Shrew

Where: Duluth East High School auditorium, 301 N. 40th Ave. E.

When: 7 p.m. April 27-29

Tickets: $5 students, $10 adults, available at the door.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176