Kiss Me Kate: 2020

If 2019 was a disappointing year for Kiss Me Kate in particular, 2020 must go down in history as a catastrophic year for the live performing arts all round. Of course Kiss Me Kate was not immune to the Corona Collapse, and from March onwards, many planned productions were postponed or fell by the wayside. And even before then, the ongoing problem concerning a certain scene was still well and truly with us.

In performances on March 5 through 7, a high school in Orlando, Florida, provided an object lesson in how not to handle the spanking scene. Fred’s ‘now you’re going to get it’ declaration prompted hand-over-mouth looks of horror from everyone onstage, as if they already knew what was going to happen. (And, of course, how could they, since he’s about to go off script?) Fred then slung Lilli over his shoulder,

and carried her offstage. (Why? He has told her she will get ‘the paddling of your life and onstage‘.) The rest of the cast then looked astonished into the wings as sounds of screaming could be faintly heard, and exchanged ‘what are we going to do now?’ shrugs as they clearly couldn’t continue the scene with both leading players absent. It was a stunningly unintelligent performance choice which privileged modern hypersensitivity about spanking over the logic of the scene as written.

At least such stupidity didn’t prevail everywhere, as we see concurrently on March 6 and 7 at a high school in New York, though the amazing oversized paddle does testify to a certain degree of over-exaggeration:

The production at the Vienna Volksoper with Andreas Lichtenberger as Fred was planned to open in mid-May with Elissa Huber as Lilli, but finally reached the stage September 2 with Ursula Pfitzner in the role. It was a close restaging of the Volksoper production of 2012, also starring Lichtenberger, so the spanking was present and correct and even merited a split-second in the trailer:

The production which opened at the State Theater of Saxony towards the end of the year did the show socially distanced, with the characters standing off from one another and frequently isolated behind glass screens. A few scenes still featured physical contact, often with the precaution of gloves and face masks, but the trailer reveals that the fight scene was done unmasked, and with other parts of the body also temporarily uncovered.

One thing it doesn’t reveal is whether they kept the spanking in; but if they did, it would have been an especially shocking moment of dangerous intimacy!

Will 2021 be a better year for KMK? Only time will tell…

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