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Barlow brings Shakespeare up to date

'Merry Wives of Windsor' translated for Madonna's demographic
by: Cory Crouser Jessie Licht, playing ‘Nym,’ pauses during the ‘Thriller’ dance number in the last scene of Barlow High School’s performance of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor.’

Last summer, R. J. McBeth, Barlow High School's drama teacher, undertook a seemingly futile endeavor - with only her lexicon at her side, she began adapting William Shakespeare's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor.'

'I just wanted to make it understandable; I wanted people to be able to follow it,' she says of the play, adding that 'The Merry Wives ' is regarded by many as one of the Bard's most colloquial works.

'It's exhausting, I'm just exhausted,' McBeth says, groaning. She estimates that she spent two solid weeks modernizing the language of the play so that it's easier for the audience to follow.

But 'modernizing' is a relative term. This play is actually set in the 1980s and features music and fashion from that era.

Material Boy

Senior Jeremy Wray plays an egocentric hedonist; a glutton, a gross, sweaty excuse for a man named Sir John Falstaff.

The play centers around Falstaff's attempts at exploiting the two most prominent women in Windsor: Mistress Page, played by senior Marissa Ramirez, and Mistress Ford, played by senior Chloe Forrester.

Falstaff's ongoing, comical attempts to gain the affections - and purses - of each are trumped by the two mistresses' very own scheme: to publicly paint Falstaff as a fool at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, Master Ford, played by senior Andrew Norlen, husband of Mistress Ford, grows increasingly suspicious of his wife's fidelity and relationship with Falstaff. He often shares his concerns in emotional monologues that border on paranoid ramblings, and at one point even disguises himself in hopes of catching Mistress Ford and Falstaff together.

As the later acts unfold, Falstaff's true nature is revealed to the people of Windsor. And while Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' blares, strobe lights illuminate the townspeople's methods of retribution.

What's love got to do with it?

But 'Merry Wives' is not just about money.

Take Fenton, played by sophomore Alex Ray, who is deeply in love with Anne Page, daughter of Master and Mistress Page. Played by sophomore Natalie Bettelyoun, Anne Page prefers love to money, and rejects suitors who offer their pocketbooks and parachute pants in exchange for her hand.

She and Fenton carry on a secretive affair throughout the play, providing the audience with the 'awwww' factor, which is otherwise absent in the world of Windsor.

'On stage, we're truly in love,' Bettelyoun says.

'But off-stage,' adds Ray with a chuckle, 'we're worst enemies.'

The moral of the story

'This is Shakespearean fluff,' McBeth says, who goes on to say that if ever Shakespeare slacked on a 'lesson-to-be-learned,' it was in this play.

But there may still be something to take from it.

'If I were going to summarize,' she adds, 'I'd say that this really just reminds us to keep our hands off of married women.'

If you go

WHAT: 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10; Friday, Nov. 11; and Saturday, Nov. 12; 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13

WHERE: Barlow High School, 5105 S.E. 302nd Ave.

COST: $5 for children younger than 12, $8 for students and seniors and $10 general admission

INFO: 503-674-5600