When I read a review of a movie, it is not because I loved the movie. It is not because I felt ambivalent toward the movie. The only reason I would click on that article is if the movie was an absolute bomb.
I see a show like “Dougal” or “The Force Awakens” or “Moose Murders,” and it is not enough to castigate it to anyone within earshot, I have to read other people trash it too. I need to see them destroy it, annihilate it, in the same way ancient Romans watched with glee as lions tore unlucky prisoners to shreds. It is the only time I feel alive.
Today we’re going to talk about a show that is equally as horrible as anything previously mentioned: “Kiss Me, Kate.” However, we will be talking about something I feel “Kiss Me, Kate” does exceptionally well. And what it does so admirably is have big, old, mastodon-sized balls.
“Kiss Me, Kate” is a bad show, and we should just get that out of the way now. If you know anything about this musical, you know it is hugely problematic. “Kiss Me, Kate” is about a group of actors in a production of one of Shakespeare’s comedies, “The Taming of the Shrew.” “The Taming of the Shrew” is basically a guide on physical torture, gaslighting and breaking people psychologically, specifically women. Of course, since “Kiss Me, Kate” is about a troupe of actors performing “The Shrew,” it doesn’t necessarily need to labor under the same misogynistic attitude The Shrew does, and it doesn’t. It is so much worse.
The creators of “Kiss Me, Kate” use the plot of “The Shrew,” and basically say, “OK, we have a cast of people performing this on stage, how can we make them also act out the play in their own lives.” This is just so batshit crazy, it’s amazing and actually admirable. You would have to be insane to think that could work. This play has so much potential, and the whole time I was watching this, I was like, ‘Everything about this show is great, except for how it completely fails to deal with its misogyny.’
The songs are great. “Too Damn Hot” is super famous, and “So in Love” is a bop. The characters are fully realized. The dancing is great, the plot is great and the plot mirrors the show exactly, succeeding at capturing the important bits of a five-act play in two hours, while also showing that play side-by-side and making it so the plot happens in real life without seeming contrived. This is the work of a maniacal genius, but all of this genius works only to make the problems with “The Shrew” 10 times worse.
Because while Katherine’s character is being tortured onstage, the actress is literally being forced to be there, being held at gunpoint so she won’t leave the show after the guy who plays her husband, actually her ex-husband in real life, is a huge dick to her. Then later on, both her current boyfriend and her ex-husband gaslight her exactly as her character is gaslighted in “The Shrew.” I don’t know what sentiment this is trying to have, for all I know it could even be a sneaky commentary on how guys are still emotionally manipulative towards women centuries after Shakespeare wrote his women hating manual. It just looks horrible. It makes you cringe so hard when you watch it.
This show had the balls to do something batshit crazy, to make a meta-musical, to do something as insane as “Birdman” or “The Lego Movie” at a time when musicals were applauded just for having a plot. It had so much potential to be insane and reckon with “The Taming of the Shrew” in a thoughtful and meaningful way and instead it only amplifies the original message of “The shrew.”
I did a project on this musical for a class, and hopefully enough time has passed for this not to affect my grade in this project. The whole time I was giving this presentation in class, I was dying to talk about what I personally thought about the show and fighting not to go off on tangents, because this musical affected me. I hope you watch it, and I hope you also scream as the building blocks of a potentially world-changing, thought-provoking and insightful musical go up in flames.