“Kiss Me, Kate,” Cole Porter’s showbiz spin on “The Taming of the Shrew,” has great characters: Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi. This weekend’s Briarcliff High School production will also feature John Wayne.
The Duke doesn’t exactly make an entrance, but one of the fight scenes between the always-battling Fred and Lilli includes a whallop that fight director Paul White calls a John Wayne punch.
Sam Chalsen – who, as Fred / Petruchio is on the receiving end of the punches thrown by Alexa Cottrell as Lilli / Kate – explains that a John Wayne punch is a highly stylized Hollywood kind of sock, where the puncher puts her arm on the punchee’s shoulder, rears back with the punching hand and really lets fly.
Think of that big brawl in John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” and you’ll get the idea: Victor McLaglen endured quite a few John Wayne punches in that donnybrook.
“It’s really big and it looks really good,” Chalsen says. “Her fist passes by your head so it looks like she went right through you, as long as you turn your head at the right time.”
Chalsen, a senior, played the Pirate King in Briarcliff’s “Pirates of Penzance” last year. Petruchio, half of the roles Chalsen plays this year, is not a big stretch from that swaggering, wise-cracking guy.
To play Fred/Petruchio, an actor has to sing, an actor has to dance and an actor has to duck.
“I throw pots and stools and watering cans, which is also really fun, because I’m not an angry person,” Cottrell says.
“If something makes me mad at school, I use it in the musical,” she says. “There’s an entire scene where I’m smacking him or punching him or hitting him.”
Chalsen, who seems to be taking it all quite well, agrees.
“I just get beat up for the whole first act of the show,” he says with a big smile. “I think it’s a lot more fun to take it than to give it, because you can totally overplay it – you have to. When you’re giving it, you have to be much more careful because you don’t want to hurt the person.”
Then he shares a valuable lesson: “If you’re getting kneed in the groin, it’s simple to fake it. As long as she doesn’t hit you too high.”
There’s more to “Kiss Me, Kate” than just the fighting, although the fighting is fun to watch. It’s also quite an acting workout, says Cottrell.
“There are moments when I’m Katharine in ‘Taming of the Shrew,’ but I break character and I am Lilli in there, also. So I have to get my mind straight, ‘OK, what am I doing right now?’ And then there are some speeches where one line I’m Katharine and another line I’m Lilli, so I have to find ways to make it apparent to the audience which character I am.”
Shakespearean Katharine has bigger gestures and more dramatic line deliveries, which helps, says Cottrell.
For his part, Chalsen says a heart beats behind Fred’s pompous and arrogant faÃƒÂ§ade.
“Fred is a jerk to everybody, but deep down he really cares about what he’s doing, which separates him from Lilli, who doesn’t,” Chalsen says. “Fred tells Lilli she has no soul.”
But she throws a great John Wayne.
Photo by Matthew Brown/The Journal News: Nabeed Hassan, left, and Rob Fine rehearse their gangster characters in Briarcliff High School’s upcoming performance of “Kiss Me Kate.” Michelle Rubich plays Lois Lane in Briarcliff High School’s performance of “Kiss Me Kate.”
‘Kiss Me, Kate’
Where: Briarcliff High School, 444 Pleasantville Road, Briarcliff Manor.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 7, 8; 2 p.m. March 9.
With: Sam Chalsen, Nicholas Turdo, Michelle Rubich, Kelly Ho, Alexa Cottrell, Chloe Effron, Brian Cipollina, Harrison Johnson, Peter Hahn, Robert Fine, Nabeed Hassan, Nick Whitley, Erica Goldstein, Megan Guerzon, Christina Kim, Anna Batchelor, Rebecca Ellison, Eve Josephson, Lara Nixon, Samantha Sommer, Hannah Berkman, Ali Bloom, Jessica Li, Erica James, Sara Pinsker, Diana Angst, Hannah Berkman, Megan Borho, Ariana Bruncaj, Becky Chalsen, Maggie Chalsen, Sarah Crosswell, Vanessa Danesvhar, Rebecca Ellson, Laura Johnson, Samantha Kahn, Emely Levine, Cara Malanowski, Laine Meyer, Vicky Michalatos, Melissa Phelan, Jackie Post, Olivia Rerek, Nikita Singh, Julia Stiffman, Jamie Stone, Alyssa Volpacchio, Janine Wexler, Nadia Rizzo, Anna Ostrofsky, Andreia Devries, Kate Stocker, Juliette Lubin, Michael Fraoli, Steven Ferruggia, Laura Kim, Brendan Reilly, Josh Elkes, Chris Melito, Charles Shultz, Noah Gordon, Marc Tartell, Alyss He, Delia Montenegro, Gwynne Whitman, Hiro Sakai, Karen Weiner, Chris Contreras, Alex Fisch, Mike Robinson, Malcolmn Reid Jr., Brett Lupi, Dan Panagocos, John Banks, Jocelyn Chen, Tim Schulz, Evan Arbogast, Forrest Gold, Jillian Herman, Abigail Jablansky, Carrie Jablansky, Chris Jagielski, Eric Jeffay, Chris Kienzle, Nicole Lividini, Shannon Louie, Tristan McVeigh, Lynne Peskoe, Chaitanya Reddy, Elaine Rigney, Brandon Epstein.
Watch video interviews with Sam Chalsen (Fred/Petruchio) and Alexa Cottrell (Lilli/Kate) at www.lohud.com/localtheater.