On paper, a play about high school kids making light of Shakespeare sounds like the opposite of how I would want to spend an evening. In practice, however, it proved not only an enjoyable evening, but an endearing one.
Gate House’s Senior Drama program recently put on a production of Steph DeFerie’s “I Hate Shakespeare”.
A look at some of The Bard’s most famous works through the eyes of a disenfranchised youth and a young Hamlet, the play was funny and insightful; making light of the tropes while actually arguing in favour of their message and relevance in modern society.
Tackling some of the tougher lines from his famous works, the actors executed them better than some adults, even rolling fluently through a few of the more lengthy and cumbersome Shakespearean insults.
Director Sequoia Coe was happy with their hard work: “I was a little bit worried. Shakespeare is kind of heavy for teenagers to dive into, but I think they were successful. They did a great job.”
Opening with the famous words from Hamlet (you know the ones), the familiar soliloquy is interrupted by an unruly audience member who insists Shakespeare is pretentious and trite. After some back and forth between Hamlet and the man in the audience, the former invites the latter on stage for a walk through various scenes.
The play even touched on the infamous curse of the ‘Scottish Play’, giving the audience a peak at the culture behind the curtains of Shakespearean production. By breaking the fourth wall in the opening scene, the play was able to draw the audience into the conversation through knowing glances, comments, and slapstick gags (pantsing, pies, et al).
It also allowed for moments of improvisation, which the actors executed genuinely and at times even brilliantly, especially considering their age.
A potentially fatal mistake, allowing for teenagers to run amok during your production, the Senior Drama players took to their roles – silly as they may be—with a notable professionalism that showed when it needed to and carried them through the more outrageous moments without detraction.
The writing itself didn’t break any new grounds where criticism of Shakespeare is concerned, but it also didn’t need to.
This play, disguised as a eschewal, was an invitation for the uninitiated to see the value in the classic works.
Most— if not all— of the critiques made by the playwright have been heard: the absurdity of a fourteen year old girl killing herself for a boy she has known for only a handful of days; that Hamlet’s convoluted plan was the real cause of the death of innocents; and undisciplined ambition was Macbeth’s tragic flaw; among others.
But the purpose of the play is to argue that these themes and pitfalls still persist in modern society and, while the language may be outdated, the meaning isn’t.
Young love is still irrational and dramatic and almost invariably, inevitably tragic as ever; people are still wont to seek revenge, harming loved ones in their wake; and we are all too often aware of our flaws but incapable of, or entirely unwilling to stop ourselves from falling to them again and again.
One particularly effective scene had a teenager translating Juliet’s “a rose by any other name” soliloquy into text messages to her stubborn high school crush, expressing the 16th century confessions of love in 21st century context in real time.
“I Hate Shakespeare” takes these tropes and holds them mirror to the human condition showing that they do stand the test of time. The fact that these are high school kids, likely prone to yawning their way through the sonnets in class and snickering at dirty limericks scribbled in the back of their library copy of Romeo and Juliet, made the argument even stronger.
The fourth wall is down, the gloves are off, the laughter well-deserved, and the integrity holds true. As the closing argument, in true Shakespearean tradition, the play is bookended by another soliloquy—Puck’s closing lines from Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Once more, an almost meta commentary on the play itself, wrapping it up thoughtfully in a nod to hundreds of years of tradition.
If all the world is indeed a stage, these young players made a remarkable and memorable entrance.
– Chadwick Green article