Shakespeare Two River Theater 1

Teens Excel in Shakespeare at Two River Theater

When high school students are able to perform Shakespeare for young audiences and get them invested, that is a testament to the enduring quality of his plays. I was skeptical at first about the impact that Shakespeare’s plays can have on young people. My experience with reading Romeo & Juliet in high school was not a pleasant one, but after watching high school students perform in “A Little Shakespeare,” I underestimated the adaptability of Shakespeare’s plays which can be modernized and engaging to this young generation growing up today. It definitely speaks volumes about his artistic work imbued on posterity.

Two River Theater has been presenting “A Little Shakespeare” every year, apart from their regular scheduled productions, and it’s wonderful to see the outpouring of love and response to this endeavor for young people. I had the opportunity to see a talented group of high school students from around the Monmouth County area perform a 75-minute version of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which is currently running performances as well, except it has a cast of three actors. Thankfully, I was able to see both versions of this play — one performed by adults and the other performed by teenagers. Although both versions are geared toward a particular demographic age group, it struck me that the humor in this comedy resonates with everyone who watches it.

There seems to be an immediate connection between the audience and the actors in character on stage when it comes to the humor expressed through the witty dialogue. Without a moment’s notice, there is always laughter in the audience. I consider that a good thing because humor is not supposed to be disingenuous. It has to be sincere and it has to be delivered by the actors in a genuine way. An audience is a sounding board. They respond to everything on stage, including the scene changes, lighting, and props. In particular, I was really impressed by the comedic timing, and engagement of these teenage actors. They were able to engage the audience with the humor, which seemed challenging. It seems as if it would be difficult as teenagers to authentically perform adult characters, but they pulled it off. The humor is often lewd and chauvinistic in this play so I wondered about the expediency of the way these lines would be delivered. However, I was surprised that these high school students understood the language and the bawdy humor that Shakespeare often incorporated into his plays.

Shakespeare Two River Theater 2This version of The Merry Wives of Windsor was easier to follow than the adult version with the cast of three actors playing multiple characters. With a larger cast of actors, the narrative was clearer so that provided a better sense of getting to know each character and their journey. On the contrary, I was not thrilled with the set design for this “A Little Shakespeare” production. The set was a stairwell with a colorful and vibrant background, but I thought that it lacked specificity. I did not know what the setting of Windsor was supposed to represent in this version of the play. I wanted the setting to have more dimension and more symbolic or metaphoric meaning like the seedy motel room did in the adult version of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Performances of The Merry Wives of Windsor will be at Two River Theater in Red Bank from now until Mar. 26. For tickets please call 732.345.1400 or email

IMAGES COURTESY of Two River Theater