One of the guys in my Saturday game with invited us to watch a play that he was in. (naturally, the best night to go turned out to be on game night, but that’s the modern weekend for you…) Initially we decided to go just to support him, because that’s what friends do. We bought the tickets, arranged who was going to take care of Ronan and fit it into the schedule. All I understood going in is that the play was about high school kids learning Shakespeare, and that my friend was playing Hamlet. The first part sounded, well… kind of like a Jack Black movie, one of the not so good ones; but my friend as Hamlet was something I wanted to see.
To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.
First off, my friend Ayden, was excellent as Hamlet, displaying both dramatic depth, and since the play pokes fun at the way we all relate to Shakespeare, comedic timing. This was not the surprise, however, although I did feel that he outdid himself.
For a cast mostly made up of high school students and young adults, I thought every single person performed exceptionally well. There was energy, enthusiasm, and effort behind every performance and, because of the play’s structure, almost every character and actor had a moment to shine. The consistency of the acting speaks well to the direction. I did not notice any serious miscues and the players were able to keep the dialogue flowing smoothly and believably, which is tough when you are quoting Shakespeare one moment and then breaking into song the next. It was nice.
But, the biggest surprise was the play itself. Yes! Shakespeare was written by a pair of local teachers. The goal of almost all modernizations of Shakespeare is to show that his works remain relevant. Yes! Shakespeare does this better than most, juxtaposing and even blending famous scenes from the Bard’s best plays with the dramas that many young people have to go through, from young love to broken families. The writer’s love of Shakespeare, and teaching, drips from every scene.
For all that, Yes! Shakespeare worked for me because it was entertaining. The writers, director, and the actors never lost sight of the idea that they were there to show the audience a good time. I was brutally tired and nodding off before the play started, but by the third or fourth scene I was getting into it. For all of the serious points that were being made, relating the bard to modern life, the play was humorous and wacky, and really went the extra mile to keep me interested.
The ending of the play was quite clever, with the main characters resolving their troubles in a class monologue “exam” using some of the very best of Shakespeare to get their points across to each other. I loved it.
This, more that anything, was the best homage to Shakespeare that a playwright can offer, because, despite the serious intellectual content of his plays, the Bard himself emphasized the value of keeping your audience entertained. You cannot reach a spectator who is dozing, after all.