I was asked if I would be interested in WSF’s mounting of Orson Scott Card’s adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew.” My answer was an immediate and unequivocal, “certainly not interested doing any script with Orson Scott Card’s name on it.” Since I believe that artists should always be able to articulate their reasons for choices made about the art, I’ve also tried to sit and spell out why I had so decisive a response:
It is no secret that I’ve not been inclined to work with WSF in recent years. I’ve had my own good thing going for three years now. But in the case of this production of “Taming of the Shrew”, the answer is the obvious and flat, “I strongly disagree with Card’s homophobic opinions and the hate-speech with which he often delivers them.”
That’s a HUGE hurdle for me right there. But I’m not a black and white thinker, so I’d have to admit that there are plenty of other authors I’ve played, produced, and enjoyed who held views and opinions anathema to myself.
For the classic authors among them (Shakespeare, Moliere, Shaw, Ibsen, even Wilde in some ways. . . ), I say that there is no way we could know how those authors would think about Jews or women or African-Americans or homosexuals today. I refuse to speculate what they might have been like as 20th or 21st century people. That sort of speculation serves no purpose except the one we’re predisposed to already. In their great creative works from the past, I find great creative merit today. That is a circumstance I am willing to navigate when a great work is before me in my art.
And I have to say that the same is often true for contemporary artists. There are many great writers, directors and actors whom I enjoy, whom I find stimulating and challenging and worthy of merit, but with whom I hold diametrically opposed views on a number of political and social subjects. David Mamet is but one example.
But the work of such contemporary artists tends to be original in nature – or at least novel in approach and truly exceptional in execution. There tends to be something in the work itself that is worthy of engagement – amazing language, compelling characters, ideas rich for exploration, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the opposing point of view of the author.
I acknowledge and honor the contribution of “Ender’s Game” to young adult literature and science fiction. I’m told, by those who would know, that there are several of Card’s novels that are of merit as science fiction. I don’t discount that at all, and have enjoyed Ender’s Game myself.
But in the case of his adaptation of “The Taming of Shrew”. . . after having read his updating of the language, I was left cold by his creative contribution to Shakespeare’s text. While perhaps more immediately understandable to a casual reader or a middle school audience, the text is palpably less buoyant, less crackling, and less rigorous in speech. The characters are considerably weakened and one-dimensional with Card’s language replacements.
So much of Shakespeare’s characters are found in HOW they talk and not just in what they say. One of the great features of “Shrew” (along with “Much Ado”) is the strength and snappiness of the wordplay between the leading characters- so quick and intelligent, and presenting two clever characters, using language smartly and shrewdly and lewdly and cunningly – and taking great joy and zest the sparring. Here is a place where the language they use means so much to who they are and what they are trying to achieve. Here, on Shakespeare’s stage, is where we see and hear how FUN and exciting it can be to be smart and to have amazing language at your disposal. All of that is missing in Card’s version. It’s as though the wit went straight beyond him for some literal translation he was comfortable with. The text is dumbed down and consistently less interesting for both the actors and, in my opinion, the audience.
And while I would normally applaud the fun and whimsical concept of an all-female cast for “Taming of the Shrew”, I think using a text with Orson Scott Card’s name on it muddies the waters in terms of the production’s intentions. Card’s expressed views about homosexuality seems to cast a pall over the exploration of such a concept.
And for that matter, why not simply use Shakespeare’s text? Strategic cutting can clarify the text for modern audiences with great alacrity while preserving the Bard’s word choice, meter, rhyme choices, and imagery. Why not attempt to rise UP to the challenge of the language instead of dialing it back and watering it down? If you’re going to do Shakespeare, DO SHAKESPEARE’S LANGUAGE. This is, I believe, the MOST compelling argument for theatrical artists and audiences.
And so, while the reason at the top of this missive would probably be enough for an LGBT-sympathetic artist in the 21st century, combining Card’s rampant and generally well-documented homophobia with his specifically un-interesting take on Shakespeare’s text of “Shrew” (and his even more egregious take on “Hamlet”!), I simply couldn’t even entertain the idea of contributing to a project with his name on it.
Other people will no doubt make different choices for different reasons. I know that I have, in the past, made conceptual choices that people disagreed with. Those choices were made after a thorough articulation of the reasoning with my cast and production crews, the pitfalls discussed as a team and the risks acknowledged and mitigated through our collective understanding. I hope the same thorough vetting was done by WSF and its Artistic Committee for this production. But ultimately, it will be up to every member of the cast and production team to decide what they are willing to take their chances on and associate their names with. I just know that were I looking forward to working with WSF on “Taming of the Shrew”, this choice would give me pause.