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East High theater production “Shakes” up a classic comedy

Cast members rehearse a scene near the end of act one of “Much Ado About Nothing.” Student director Kier Zimmerman follows along while Greta Weisel, who plays Hero, is accused of infidelity by her betrothed Claudio, played by Graham Godfrey. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 2
Student director Kier Zimmerman searches through her script to find her favorite line. Zimmerman is a junior at East and the cast’s “Shakespeare expert.” (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 2

Several students at Duluth East High School have been brushing up on their “thee’s” and “thy’s.” This week marks the opening of the student production of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Director Rod Dahlquist set the play in the mid-1940s while otherwise following Shakespeare’s original script. The play begins with soldiers arriving in the town of Messina, Italy, returning from service in World War II.

“When I was thinking of setting, I thought you can do almost anything with Shakespeare,” Dahlquist said. “But the 40s fit so well with the message of the play and the attitudes of the characters.”

Because Rosie the Riveter was a symbol of the 40s, the “citizens watch” group featured in the script has been double-cast. For three of the performances, these roles will be played by boys, as Shakespeare wrote. For the other performances, these roles will be played by girls.

“My thought is that this is an educational experience. If we get a great show out of it, if the audience likes it, so much the better, but more importantly they’re learning. That’s why every year I do a Shakespeare or a Moliere, some classic to train them in that area,” Dahlquist said.

How do the students feel about the classic text?

“I love this show,” said Jacob Kowalczak, a sophomore who plays Benedick, one of the lead characters. “My brother acts a lot around Duluth, so both of us are major Shakespeare nerds.”

Kowalczak said he saw Joss Whedon’s version of the play this summer with his brother.

“We were cracking up the entire film,” he said. “I love that I get the chance to play Benedick.”

Playing Benedick also means Kowalczak has to share a few romantic scenes with his love interest Beatrice, played by sophomore Meghan Jarecki.

“We’re friends, but it’s going to be so awkward when we have to kiss,” Kowalczak said.

Greta Weisel shares Kowalczak’s nervousness about the romance of the play. Weisel plays Hero, Beatrice’s cousin who falls in love with Claudio, played by Graham Godfrey.

“Graham is very talented, but I’m extremely nervous about us having to stage-kiss. I think out of the three leads, the only one who’s not nervous is Meghan, just because she’s probably done this before,” said Weisel.

Weisel is a senior this year and “Much Ado” marks her twelfth play at Duluth East. She is the only senior to be cast in every production for the past four years and said Hero is one of her favorite parts so far.

“She has a lot of emotion to her. She’s really quiet, so people kind of overlook her. But there’s this kindness to her. She wants everybody to be happy. She wants Beatrice and Benedick to be in love because she’s in love,” Weisel said.

Eleventh grader Layla Koch is enjoying the chance to read Shakespeare in English. Koch is an exchange student from Switzerland playing the role of Francis Seacole.

“It’s really cool because whenever we read Shakespeare in Switzerland it’s always translated to German,” Koch said “It’s translated to very old German, but it’s not the same.”

The show has had its difficulties due to the slew of spring snowstorms. Dahlquist said he had planned for an eight week rehearsal schedule, but lost a week and a half of practice to snow days and conflicts in scheduling.

“It’s been kind of a headache, but nothing

I don’t think we can get past. I think a lot of theater productions are like that, where you panic the last two weeks before the performances,” said student director Kier Zimmerman. “But it all comes together.”

Zimmerman, a junior, is the play’s resident Shakespeare expert. She has attended workshops on Shakespearean language at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. Normally a student director would provide input for one or two scenes, but Zimmerman’s enthusiasm for the play has provided her the opportunity to direct four scenes.

“I’m in love with Shakespeare, as everyone in this cast knows. This is one of my favorite plays. I get very excited when it comes to Shakespeare,” Zimmerman said.

Dahlquist said the timing of the play is appropriate, due to the fact that April 23 marked a special occurrence.

“We also have to have a bit of a celebration on Wednesday because it’s somebody’s birthday,” Dahlquist announced to the cast last week.

“Yours?” an actor asked.

“No, it’s Shakespeare’s birthday. 450 years since he was born,” Dahlquist said.

“Wow. He’s old,” the actor replied.

“You know, when we were boys together he didn’t seem that old,” Dahlquist joked, evoking groans and laughter from the students.

The show opens on Thursday, May 1. Tickets are $5 at the door. East Theatre is offering free tickets to WWII veterans and a guest, in a nod of gratitude for their service.

There will be a reservations-only dinner theater special on Friday, May 2. The menu will include French herb-crusted rack of pork, roasted garlic mashed Yukon gold potatoes and sautéed vegetables, served in the school’s Food for Thought Café at 5:45 p.m. with the show at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for the dinner and show. For dinner reservations or more information, call 218-336-8845, ext. 2147.

If you go

What: Much Ado About Nothing

Where: East High School Auditorium 301 N. 40th Ave. E., Duluth.

When: May 1-3 and 8-9 at 7 p.m., Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on May 4

Cost: Tickets are $5, available at the door

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176