Kate and Petruchio, revisited
Shelly Gaza and Scott Coopwood play older, wiser leads in CSF’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’
Shelly Gaza’s voice is like a warm, soft blanket, her words maternal and sensitive. By contrast, Scott Coopwood talks fast in a deep, resonant and rough-edged baritone; he says he’s often mistaken for a biker. Gaza, married with kids, is ensconced in the quiet of Greeley; Coopwood lives the exciting single life in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area.
They’ve never met, but despite their differences and distances, Gaza, 43, and Coopwood, 50, have something major in common: They’ve both played the lead roles in “The Taming of the Shrew” before, and they’ll reprise those roles opposite one another this summer at CSF.
“The Taming of the Shrew” is a familiar story to almost everyone: One man, Petruchio, bets two friends that he can woo the notoriously short-tempered Kate, and though they fight bitterly in the beginning, they eventually gain each other’s respect and fall in love.
In a typical production of the Shakespearean romantic comedy, Kate and Petruchio are meant to be foolish, immature and bullheaded—in other words, they’re meant to be young. But director Christopher DuVal has a different idea for this “Shrew,” one that tempers the taming, subtracts much of the shrewishness and gives the two leads a few more years of life experience.
“It’s not about taming the girl,” says Coopwood. “It’s about two very headstrong and somewhat older people figuring out how to actually be in love with one another.”
In DuVal’s production, Petruchio first meets Kate in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood just after World War II. Kate is a fighter pilot fresh off an Air Force tour, hardened from the hell of war and from years of occupying a traditionally male role.
“She’s a woman in a man’s world,” Gaza says of this Kate. “That should have earned her some chutzpah. It explains a lot about her and brings to light explanations for why she’s the way she is.”
In the 12 years since she last played Kate at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Gaza has done a lot to earn her own chutzpah: She became the mother of two children, took on a teaching job at the University of Northern Colorado and co-founded the Statera Foundation to advocate for women in theatre.
“I have a lot of life experience now that I didn’t have more than a decade ago,” Gaza says. “My concept of being a good partner and spouse has completely evolved. I think relationships are about give and take, and that’s true for Kate and Petruchio, too: The journey is not about taming Kate, it’s about Kate and Petruchio both learning to become good people for each other.”
Coopwood, too, has lived, loved and lost since his first turn as Petruchio at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in 2007.
“I would have thought 10 years ago, when I was living with somebody, that I would have a relationship and a home with somebody by now,” Coopwood confesses. “But I’m 50, and I don’t. So having that experience on stage—being able to find my match and fall in love—is a really cool way to spend my summer. I’ve got a lot to give and a lot to share that my real life doesn’t afford me very often.”
Coopwood says that, like Petruchio, “I have a gooey chocolate center at my heart, but I come across as a pretty intimidating person.” Coopwood likes Petruchio’s wit, charm and bravado, and he’s excited to see how those characteristics look on an older, wiser protagonist—one who’s been hardened by years of searching for a soulmate.
“Kate and Petruchio challenge each other, and that’s what they’ve been lacking in other relationships,” he says. “They have to get over the thought that, ‘Well, this has never worked before.’ But they’re absolutely meant for each other and they do legitimately fall in love.”
Both Coopwood and Gaza admit it’s tough to tell the story of “Shrew” in a time when many would consider the story of a man “taming” a woman to be misogynistic. But Gaza, a longtime advocate for the equal representation of women in theatre, maintains it can be done responsibly. When she directed a school tour of “Shrew” for Utah Shakespeare a few years ago, Gaza “made sure we were not giving any message of misogyny or superiority of men over women in marriage.”
“Something I kept in the forefront of every rehearsal was the question, ‘What story do we want to tell with this play?’” she says. “I think it’s a story of two people falling in love.”
Like misogyny, Gaza believes it’s also possible to cut out some of the characters’ immaturity. Given that American brides and grooms are getting older every year, she loves the realistic idea that, in this production, Kate is a fully-developed, not-so-young single woman.
“In past generations, people may have been more inclined to think that you get married and then you figure yourself out,” she says. “But in the U.S. in 2017, I think most of us agree that marriage is something that happens after someone fully understands themselves and is ready for a partner.”
Coopwood concurs. While he loves the timeless comedy provided by Petruchio’s stubbornness and conniving, he finds that, as he gets older, he’s more interested in delving into what Shakespeare has to say about romance and self-discovery.
At Lake Tahoe in 2007, he loved every moment “when [Kate and Petruchio] were talking not at each other but to each other,” he says. “They only get to talk privately two times when there’s no one else in the room, and I want those scenes to be a genuine opportunity for these two to fall in love with each other. Coming at it 10 years later, I want more of the heart.”