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Shakespeare Swings at Whitman

"Much Ado About Nothing"

Jessica Malashevich got tendinitis from swing dancing, but she’ll keep on swinging until this weekend is over. She’s part of the cast in Whitman’s 1940s-themed “Much Ado About Nothing,” the first Shakespeare play Whitman has performed in more than 10 years.

“We’ve got swing dancing, singing, weddings, funerals, arrests, fights, and above all, laughter,” said assistant director Arielle Menick, a senior.

Whitman English teacher Susan Hazard chose to set the play in 1945 America, with soldiers returning from World War II. The play’s story line begins with characters Don Pedro, Benedick and Claudio returning from battle.

As the returning soldiers came onstage during rehearsal last week, Hazard reminded the women how long it’s been since the men left for war. “You are ecstatic!” she said.

SENIOR JOHN Wiethorn plays Benedick, at first a curmudgeon who is determined never to fall in love, especially with Beatrice, played by Emily Star. The characters trade barbs in the beginning of the play, but a romance develops between the two.

“It’s the classic love-hate relationship – someone you can’t stand, but you can’t stand being without,” Wiethorn said.

Next year, Wiethorn will attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, a performing arts program with campuses on Broadway and in Hollywood. He loves Shakespeare, and feels fortunate to take part in a production before he graduates. “It’s a light-hearted play. There’s not a lot of language that’s bogged down and holds too much double-meaning,” Wiethorn said.

A GOAL FOR Hazard and the Whitman actors is to make the Shakespearean dialogue less foreign to a contemporary audience. “I think the key to performing Shakespeare well is making it accessible, and I think these kids do a fantastic job of this,” said Hazard.

“Even though it’s regular Shakespearean language, it’s easier to follow the story line,” because of the actors’ clarity and a detailed play synopsis that’s part of the program, said Menick, the assistant director. “Someone who’s never read Shakespeare before could probably understand this play.”

Senior Aaron Stone plays Antonio, in his first theatrical role in three years. “Originally, I just wanted to help out with the play, because I didn’t like Shakespeare.” Stone’s initial plan was to be an assistant director, but he took on a role after another student quit. After two months of rehearsals, Stone said he understands Shakespeare better.