by Jeff Johnson
High school theatre productions provide the seasoned theatre-goer with the opportunity to observe fledgling actors in their inaugural roles. Occasionally a deeper talent will reveal itself for the first time under such a proscenium. Such was the case with the recent performance of Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits by William Shakespeare at Riverside University High School November 8 and 9. This production provided moments of delightfully fine theatre. The English and Music departments collaborated on the production. Three faculty directors, Michael Pikuleff, Milena Walker, and Damon White, chose scenes from As You Like It, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet, casting students in all the remaining onstage and offstage roles. The scope of these plays might seem to challenge an audience to stay abreast, but between-the-scene narrations worked to tie the vignettes together. These narratives were student-written using a Shakespearian cadence and were artfully performed by Joshua Hargrove and Monica Harris. Particularly effective was the conclusion to the series of Macbeth scenes in which Hargrove and Harris sang a crib notes version of Macbeth to the music from Three Jazz Cannons by composer Ron Drotos while the rest of the cast pantomimed. Cari Jagnow in the role of Katherina from The Taming of the Shrew skillfully captured Kate’s fire and dignity as she verbally dueled with her Petruchio, Adam Anderson. Danisha Williams was mesmerized and mesmerizing as Lady Macbeth in the handwashing scene. She embodied Lady Macbeth’s madness, compulsion, and grief. The sword play for the final scene between Hamlet (Joshua Hargrove), and Laertes (Perry Guirau), was convincing, energetic, and full of high spirits. Monique Gardner as Ophelia portrayed Ophelia’s confusion and sorrow at Hamlet’s rebuff with a directness and charm that a more seasoned actor might not be able to achieve. But the highlight of the evening was Hamlet’s “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy as crafted by Joshua Hargrove. Granted, this was a young actor doing a role that it is said cannot be understood by an actor until the actor is too old to perform it. But Hargrove was convincing. Perhaps being a student from a central city neighborhood prepares an artist for emotional depths that even the finest studio training can not evoke. But there was Hamlet for those few minutes, alive, tortured, and ever so real.