This hidden gem on YouTube shows us a young and radiant Meryl Streep as Kate and a sexy Raul Julia in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ 1970s style.
The research for one of my projects is finding and watching a wide range of productions of Shakespeare’s plays and one of the joys of doing research is discovering a hidden gem like this charming documentary about a production of The Taming of the Shrew which gives us a unique perspective on Kate and Petruchio.
Kiss Me, Petruchio (in two parts on my YouTube channel: Shakespeare on YouTube. Part One and Part Two) documents a performance of the play in the summer of 1978 for the Theatre in the Park Festival in Central Park, New York. It features a young and radiant Meryl Streep as Katherina and a vibrant and sexy Raul Julia as Petruchio. As well as extensive excerpts from the play, we see reactions from members of the audience, and interviews with Julia and Streep in which they discuss their take on the characters and interpretation of the play.
Julia brings to Petruchio all his Latin-American bravura and machismo as well as its cadence to his language, giving Shakespeare’s lines a rich poetry. Streep’s Katherina is passionate and often out of control as she falls into violent tantrums, but her charm and heart are never totally obscured.
For both Julia and Streep, the play is a passionate love story. Julia’s Petruchio immediately recognises that he has met his perfect match in Katherina. He sees in her what no one else sees, what she is really like. He recognises that underneath the anger she is a beautiful person and that the anger is in fact just an act. He sees it as something she is addicted to and he determines to ‘get her off’ that addiction, to show her that she does have a choice to not be a victim of what so angers her.
For Streep, Katherina is an angry and unhappy young woman who steps on everyone who comes close to her. She harries her sister and dominates her father. Petruchio is the first person who has ever said no to her, and although this makes her angry, she also likes the way he looks at her with love. Although Katherina, too, develops a passionate love for Petruchio, she cannot admit it for a long time.
However, over time Katherina realises that Petruchio is in fact acting for her own good and not mistreating her for the sake of mistreating her. She recognises that he wants to make her the best person she can be. When Katherina finally understands herself, she can succumb to the beauty of love and give into the happiness of selflessness.
The audience is ambivalent about the play, especially the women. This performance took place during the Equal Rights Amendment campaign in the United States and women’s rights are to the forefront of their minds. But while they condemn Petruchio’s domination of Katherina, they find Raul Julia’s strength and sexiness hard to resist. This ambiguity, as one woman puts it, is what makes the play both ‘fabulous’ and ‘disgusting’.
The young Meryl Streep is a revelation. We know her now as a strong and independently minded force in the film industry (especially in the wake of #metoo) but here she reveals herself as a woman capable of deep love and selflessness. In an article in the New York Times, written during the play’s rehearsals, we learn that Streep had recently lost her lover John Cazale to cancer, and, from IMDb, that she was soon to marry Don Gummer to whom she is still married 40 years and four children later. So when she says she knows how it feels to say ‘I’ll do anything for this man’, we know it is true. She brings all this understanding and capacity to her Katherina, despite the negative reaction she gets from the audience.
This production is a very personal interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew, which does give us an alternative way of reading it.
© Pauline Montagna 2021