It’s the Israeli capital’s answer to Shakespeare in the Park: a community theater’s gender-bent production of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”
This week, Jerusalem’s own Theatre in the Rough company opens a two-week run of the Bard’s bawdy comedy in the verdant Bloomfield Park, just next to the King David Hotel. The nine performances, on August 10–24, are for all ages and free of charge (with a suggested donation of NIS 35).
The roving outdoor shows have become a yearly affair for locals, with audiences following the meandering actors around the grassy expanses of Bloomfield Gardens, much like New Yorkers do in Central Park.
“We actually wanted to follow that model, where you can bring the whole family, enjoy a show, and donate maybe $20,” said Beth Steinberg, co-founder of Theatre in the Rough and this play’s director.
“You win, the theater company wins, it’s good for everyone,” Steinberg said.
Even for those unfamiliar with Shakespeare, the production is surprisingly easy to follow and is full of laugh-out-loud throwaway gags as subtle as a facial expression. A modern cadence makes the dialogue relevant and accessible – racy double entendre and all. Even the costumes got an update.
“We decided to go with an ’80s theme,” Steinberg said.
Also risque – the unorthodox casting choice. “We made the decision that the men are playing the main women’s roles,” said Steinberg. The main male roles are played by women.
“We don’t mean it to be overtly political, but after the most recent American election I really struggled as a woman about what I felt about the state of the world in terms of gender, how many of these tropes are still alive and well — that men like to rule over women.”
It was a surprise for lead actors Gilad Petranker and Robin Stamler, who didn’t know about this twist when they auditioned for the play.
“Both of them initially were like, ‘Really?’” said Steinberg. “And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And they really went with it.”
“They said, ‘Am I a man playing a woman — what am I?’ And I said, ‘You are who you are: Gilad playing Katherine, Robin playing Bianca. And you have to think out what that means to you. I’m not going to say whether you’re a man or a woman or an anything. You are this part in this play, and you have to inhabit the role and find your way through it.’”
Steinberg co-founded Theatre in the Rough in 2010 along with her son Natan Skop and actor Toby Trachtman. They saw the need for more English-language theater in Israel and decided to focus on Shakespeare. Since then, the company has put on yearly productions and hopes one day to add a winter season as well.
Funding comes from “the take at the gate,” said Steinberg. This includes freely given contributions and T-shirt sales. There are two “patrons of the arts” who have provided support for two years running, and the company also received a perfectly-sized grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation this year to help put on the “Taming” production.
The company has also had support from the Jerusalem Foundation as well as the municipality in past years.
Despite the cross dressing, Steinberg insisted that “drag” is not the correct nomenclature.
“It is not a drag show, even though I do have to admit that Katherine does really wear some fabulous outfits — but Gilad was really open to that,” she said. “It’s intense, and it’s very fast language, and it’s totally full of innuendo. You sort of say to yourself, ‘Huh, they’re really attracted to each other.’ And it’s fun to see them play that out.”