At DQHS: 'A Night With Shakespeare' POSTPONED

A.J. Rice wants Guy Indorante to hit those Bs with a bounce.

"If there's a B consonant, you should say, 'base', 'base'," Rice says, booming the staccato "B" throughout the Du Quoin High School theater.

The character of Edmund, he tells Indorante, is mad at the world. In King Lear he is the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, and is writing a letter expressing bitterness at being shut out in favor of his brother Edgar, the Earl's legitimate son.

"He does not like anybody," Rice says. "He's trying to prove himself the entire play.

"So slow it down," he tells Indorante, who has kind of rushed through the first reading of Edmund's monologue.

Indorante goes again, this time with more deliberation, and more understanding.

<i>... "Well then, Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.

Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund

As to th' legitimate. Fine word - 'legitimate'!

Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,

And my invention thrive, Edmund the base

Shall top th' legitimate. I grow; I prosper.

Now, gods, stand up for bastards!"</i>

Rice, a senior at Du Quoin High School, is a William Shakespeare nerd. He has read the plays mulitple times and seen most every interpretation on film, from Olivier to Branagh. He spent 10 months writing an hourlong Shakespearean staging, tearing it up and reworking it more than once.

On Sunday, March 15, "A Night With Shakespeare" has its one and only performance, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Du Quoin High School auditorium. There are no tickets; the audience will be asked to donate whatever they think the experience is worth.

It's a "Best of Shakespeare" revue - a fast-paced mingling of spine-tingling monologues with comedy and even songs and dancing.

It is entertainment that even the most Shakespeare-phobic person doesn't need to fear. Rice has made the Bard accessible, and even fun. Some jokes will go over the heads of his high school contemporaries and land directly on the funny bones of their parents.

"This kid," says Lisa Coleman, Rice's faculty adviser for the play, "is an old soul."

Rice finds Shakespeare fascinating, not just for the plays, but because those plays revolutionized drama in his time and added more than 2,000 words to the English lexicon.

"When (Shakespeare) was a child, he watched plays where the actors had names like "Revenge" and "Fear" and "Anger" - there was no characterization," Rice says.

"He came in and said, I can do it better. He wrote stories when stories didn't exist. That's why I love him so much."

Rice will be satisfied if one audience member says "I enjoyed it," and another one says, "I laughed."

Comedy, he adds, was essential to Shakespeare, even in tragedy.

Even Romeo and Juliet is a funny play, he tells Beth Walther, who plays Juliet. Yes, it ends tragically, but the comic elements, like Juliet's nurse, are key.

Rice originally envisioned having 13 actors, each one handling multiple roles. But when he and Coleman set an open audition, Coleman was worried they wouldn't even get 13.

Instead, nearly 50 kids showed up, even a few from the middle school, all eager to give Shakespeare a try.

Rice found parts for them all. More girls than boys came, and so a stricture of the Elizabethan theater - that men and boys had to play women's roles because women weren't allowed on stage - gets neatly turned on its head.

There is a lot of memorization. And once the kids knew their lines, they then had to understand them. Coleman and other English Department teachers helped by working with the actors.

D.J. Willis, as King Henry V, has the famous pre-battle speech in which the king rallies his men for the Battle of Agincourt, in which they face almost certain defeat at the hands of superior French forces.

"This is the halftime speech, when you are down by one point," Rice tells Willis.

It's the longest speech of the night, and even in an early rehearsal Willis has already memorized most of it. He bounces on the balls of his feet and his voice booms off the back wall of the R.P. Hobbs Auditorium, so that every soldier in camp can hear him.

<i>... "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he today that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day!"</i>

Willis ends with a shout, and Rice is beaming.

Rice, who will be at SIU next year working on a bachelor's degree in theater, says he'll follow that up with a master's in cinema. Today, though, he is just hoping he's made a show that will leave his audience with a greater appreciation of Shakespeare.

"I want one person to say, 'I didn't know Shakespeare did that, maybe he's kind of cool,'" he added.

Addison Carver peeks through the backstage curtains. Renee Trappe photo
Anna Sheehan as Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife. Renee Trappe photo
A.J. Rice as the Narrator, opens the show talking to the audience. Renee Trappe photo
Trinity Wright as the dead Julius Caesar and his assassins, from left, Elizabeth Davis, Lauren Bauman, Daisy Long, Addison Carver and Raylee Carroll. Renee Trappe photo
Jaxson Smith as Benedick, from Much Ado About Nothing. Renee Trappe photo
Kate Indorante as Richard III Renee Trappe photo
A.J. Rice giving the cast notes at the end of Friday's rehearsal. Renee Trappe photo
Trinity Wright as Caesar and Emme Darnell as his wife, Calpurnia, who foretold his death and tried in vain to prevent his assassination. Renee Trappe photo
Guy Indorante as Edmund, from King Lear. Renee Trappe photo
Sarah Lynde as Katherine, in Taming of the Shrew. Renee Trappe photo
Kendra Gregory as Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice. Renee Trappe photo
Beth Walther as Juliet. Renee Trappe photo
Carlie Sommers as Bianca in Taming of the Shrew, with her gentleman pursuers, from left, Hunter Burris, Jaxson Smith, Nathan Smith and Ben Harsy. Renee Trappe photo
Derick Davis as the Announcer Renee Trappe photo
Kate Indorante, on the floor, talking with A.J. Rice, onstage. Renee Trappe photo
Emee Darnell has a slight wardrobe malfunction that Kendra Gregory helps her fix.