A sharp, feminist response to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, WSC Avant Bard presents TAME. at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington, November 3 to December 11. D.C. playwright Jonelle Walker’s first full-length play, TAME. takes audiences to small-town Texas in 1960, where a young lesbian poet, Cat, has returned home from Smith College mourning the suicide of her first love. Wanting to rid their daughter of her homosexuality, Cat’s religious parents hire a minister named Patrick, a young firebrand, to “tame” her.
A firebrand herself, Cat is fierce, feisty, and creative, in spite of her grief. “Think Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Shane McCutcheon all mixed up, with a dash of old-school malice,” says Jill Tighe, who plays Cat.
The play gives viewers a rare chance to see a female character mourn in ways traditionally reserved for men: angry and unapologetic, Cat throws tantrums and lashes out, fighting the minister back.
“It’s exciting, thrilling, and a challenge to dig into characters with grit like this,” Tighe says.
Cat’s character is a welcome departure from Katherina, the Shakespeare character on which she is based. Walker, a Texas native, wrote TAME. after working on a production of The Taming of the Shrew she found unsatisfactory.
“We tried to give Katherina a voice. We tried to direct the play such that it undermined her oppression,” Walker recalls. “It didn’t work. So, I set out to write my own version of the story where Katherina did find methods of resistance within a strictly patriarchal society.”
TAME.’s 1960 setting allows various complexities of the queer experience to play out. “In many ways, the tragedy of Cat’s story comes from being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Walker says. “This was a time when Cat could find acceptance as a queer person in some places, but not most. The same could be said for her flagrant disregard for traditional gender roles and social niceties. It strikes me as a time when a woman like Cat could exist, but not flourish.”
While Walker doesn’t interpret Shakespeare’s Katherina as being queer, she says that Cat came to her, fully formed, as a queer character. “I knew two things right away,” Walker says of Cat. “She was an artist and she was queer.”
Walker speculates, however, that her close social circle, largely comprised of queer women, may have inspired Cat’s queerness. “There may have been a part of me looking to represent those complex, loving relationships [between queer women] I saw in life which I had not really seen on stage,” she says.
Darkly comic and unapologetically twisted, TAME. is rebellious and honest. Walker says, “If every play is a ride, TAME. will have you doing loops backwards and upside down. Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times and hold onto your seat belts. It gets bumpy.”
To learn more about TAME. and to purchase tickets, visit wscavantbard.org.