By Bob Skolnik
For the first time in more than a decade, Shakespeare is returning to the stage at Riverside-Brookfield High School. But it will be Shakespeare with a modern twist.
The RBHS fall play, which will be performed this weekend, is the comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, complete with 1980s music and attire.
The play, which will be performed Nov. 9 at 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10 and 11, at 7:30, is directed by Colleen Stahnke, a para-educator at RBHS.
Stahnke, who graduated from Dominican University with a double major in theater and psychology, attended, with the help of a $700 grant from the Riverside Brookfield Educational Foundation, the famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival's program for high school teachers. She appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream when she was a student at Morton West High School.
She decided to do a comedy, because no current RBHS students had ever done Shakespeare before.
At the Oregon Festival, Stahnke was given an abridged version of the play designed for high school students.
"They make the 90-minute version, which does an amazing job of keeping the integrity of the story line," said Stahnke.
Stahnke added the 1980s twist to the show to make it easier for her teenage actors to relate to the plot.
"The best way to introduce Shakespeare was to relate it in a way that would make sense to them," Stahnke said. "When I looked at the archetypes of the characters, I really connected with different 1980s stereotypes."
Some the fairies will look familiar, particularly to the students' parents, as they are based on 1970s and '80s icons such as Freddie Mercury, Cyndi Lauper, Olivia Newton-John and the Brat Pack actors, who appeared in such movies such as The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, 16 Candles and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
The characters glow on stage illuminated by black lights, and the show includes snippets from 1970s and '80s songs such as "Come on Feel the Noize," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Uptown Girl," "Sexual Healing" and others.
Freshman Haley Rayfield plays Hermia, senior Casey Whisler plays Helena, senior Matt Dwyer plays Demetrius, senior Taner Guzeldereli plays Nick Bottom, and junior Noah Morriss plays Robin Goodfellow, commonly known as Puck, leading a cast of 33.
The set was designed by senior John Gorski.
Learning Shakespeare's lines was not easy for the actors.
"It has definitely been a tumultuous thing to get through," Stahnke said. "I think the big thing for them was me just telling them to repeat, repeat, repeat."
Morriss says that it took a lot of work to learn his lines.
"It was definitely difficult at first, but I worked hard and over time you slowly get used to it and you get used to the rhymes and how it all sounds," said Morriss who is appearing in only second show at RBHS.
Morriss made his theatrical debut just last spring in RBHS' production of Annie and performed this summer in Les Misérables at Music Makers Theater of Western Springs.
"This is like a whole new thing for me," Morriss said. "I've only done a couple of shows and never anything like this before so it's pretty crazy."
His talent has impressed Stahnke.
"Noah came to auditions memorized and has an ability to create that physicality that no high school student that I've ever seen takes the initiative to try," Stahnke said. "He moves around the set in a way that somebody who has been professionally coached for a while would."
Morriss said he was inspired to take up theater by seeing fellow S.E. Gross Middle School graduates Whisler and Guzeldereli perform for years. He lives close to Whisler.
"I did not know her very well, but I had seen her in shows in middle and high school and I looked up to her, as well as Taner," Morriss said. "I saw both of them in lots of shows and they definitely put a big influence on me."
Whisler is appearing in her sixth show at RBHS. She has loved theater since she was 7 years old.
"I saw the musical Wicked for my birthday and it totally changed my entire life," Whisler said. "That was the first moment that I really got into theater."
Guzeldereli is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Zeyne, who was one of best actors ever at RBHS and is now working in Hollywood.
"It's been really, really fun knowing that I'm following in his footsteps and doing the things that he loved to do as well," Guzeldereli said.
Guzeldereli, who plays Nick Bottom, says he styled the character after Anthony Michael Hall's "Geek" in the movie 16 Candles.
"It's a lot of fun to play this air-headed character," he said. "This '80s vibe is really making this play stand out and be something special."