INDEPENDENCE -- The use of the word "medicinable" in a line of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" caused a recent rehearsal of the play at Central High School to come to a halt.
The cast and crew had to take a moment to nail down its meaning in proper context, said director Rachel Duncan.
Thomas Anderson, who graduated early from Central High this year, portrays the lead character of Benedick. Anderson said he got stuck on a passage that read "a whole book full of these carpet-quondum mangers"; the latter word is pronounced "mongers."
"There's a lot of weird things like that," he said. "We've been stopped in the middle of a scene before."
To anybody who's ever taken an English class in high school, you know that there are times when Shakespeare seems completely foreign.
But his works are considered classics for a reason, said Katie Ayres, a Central High senior and acting veteran who plays Beatrice, another lead character.
"It's such beautiful language that you can put emotion into it and throw yourself into a character in a way you can't with another show," Ayres said.
Central High's theater program will perform Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" starting today (Wednesday, Feb. 16) and continuing through Saturday, Feb. 19, at the school's performing arts theater.
The production represents a couple of milestones. Central lost drama classes because of budget cuts this year; to compensate, officials decided to make use of its brand new facility and let kids learn while doing by scheduling three shows instead of two, Duncan said.
"We're doing this so kids can still get theater experience," she said. "They're not doing it for grades, but for the love of it."
Duncan, an English teacher with a long background in theater, will assume directing duties instead of Jeff Witt, the school drama program director. Duncan said Central will probably have other guest directors next year, as well.
"Now it kind of feels like a real season, with different directors, different genres.
Also significant? This will be the first Shakespeare play performed at Central High since "Comedy of Errors" in 1979.
"We don't have a lot of specialized Shakespeare classes," Duncan said, adding that memorization of lengthy prose requires much work outside of school.
"It's hard to do Shakespeare at a high school," she said.
"Much Ado" was selected as one of the playwright's more popular comedies. Its plot, which involves two pairs of quarreling lovers who end up marrying, is familiar.
Instead of Sicily, the setting for Central's version is the Midwest after World War II. Duncan said because gender roles evolved during that period, that served as a perfect excuse to transform Beatrice, one of the four main characters, into a Rosie-the-Riveter type.
The set includes a two-story farmhouse with a wrap-around deck, antique furnishings and a 1940 Chevrolet pickup. The cast and crew number nearly 40.
Directing Shakespeare is far more challenging than simply teaching it, and requires an understanding of the material.
"With the language, and the era and the pronunciation, there's this whole frontloading of information that has to go on," Duncan said.
As an educational opportunity, Central High put on a matinee this week, inviting nearly 600 students from Talmadge Middle School and Perrydale and Falls City high schools to the performance.
"We want to make Shakespeare fun and vivid," Duncan said. "It was never meant to just be read in a book ... it was meant to be heard and seen."
Central High School's theater program presents William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."
Wednesday, Feb. 16; Thursday, Feb. 17; Friday, Feb. 18; and Saturday, Feb. 19. Performances begin at 7 p.m.
Central High School auditorium, 1530 Monmouth St., Independence.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for those 17 and under. General admission tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling 503-606-2225.