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Traditional Juliet, played by Kristen Anderson, delivers the famous "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" speech.

To be or not to be entertained: Red Wing High School thespians make Shakespeare modern

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Everyone is familiar with the story of Romeo and Juliet. Phrases from Hamlet ("To be, or not to be...") have probably worked themselves into your vocabulary. Maybe you've seen "10 Things I Hate about You," a movie based on "The Taming of the Shrew."

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Even though Shakespeare's famous works have become part of everyday life, the plots of his plays remain a mystery for many people.

That's something that the actors and directors of Red Wing High School's winter play hope will change with their performances of the comedy "I Hate Shakespeare," next Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

"It's basically a run through of all of Shakespeare's really great plays," said senior Mikayla Cota, who splits her time onstage playing four roles.

While some of William Shakespeare's writing from the 1500s and 1600s made its way into the script, a lot of the play offers recaps and summaries done in modern English. That means the audience will be able to easily grasp Shakespeare's plots, the actors said.

"It certainly told me more about Shakespeare's works than I (knew) before," said junior Michael Diercks, who plays the lead role of Hamlet. "I think if someone were to go into the shows knowing as much about Shakespeare as I knew, I think they'd come out with more knowledge than they went in with."

The play starts out with Hamlet holding the famous skull and reciting his soliloquy when he's interrupted by an audience member, played by Val Gehn. She's unhappy with the production and calls Shakespeare pointless.

It's then up to Hamlet to prove to her -- and the rest of the audience -- that Shakespeare's plays aren't useless ramblings and speeches that don't make sense.

A cast of about 25 takes the audience through modernized summaries of Hamlet, MacBeth, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and more. As proof of how modern this retelling is, Jerry Springer, played by Lexi Christiansen, makes an appearance. So does a mall-going, cellphone-using Juliet, played by Sylvia Frazier.

"It's a spoof of Shakespeare so they'll recognize some lines," said Julie Martin, who co-directs the play with Michelle Meyer.

But it's not just that the cast and directors want the audience to learn to appreciate Shakespeare. They also want to make them laugh.

"We thought it was really funny," Meyer said of what made them choose this particular play.

In the play's first act, Hamlet's family members drink poisoned wine and die -- all ending up in a large dog-pile the middle of the stage.

An infomercial for the fictional "Shakespeare in a Can," -- which helps a nerdy guy hurl Shakespearian insults at a man trying to steal his girlfriend -- comes later.

Diercks admitted that he wasn't really sure of some of the comedy when he first read the script. But as the cast began practicing, he said the play's quirky humor grew on him.

"If we get people to laugh, we've done our job," he said.

"Enjoyment," added Cota on what she hopes the audience will get from a different view of Shakespeare. "And ... maybe some understanding that he wasn't just some idiot in tights."

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Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.
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