Monday, August 31, 2009

Polly & Ethan: Double Play

March, 2009

William Shakespeare had twins, a son and a daughter: Hamnet and Judith.

It's likely these children influenced his writing. In his first play, "A Comedy of Errors," the riotous, rib-cracking fun arises from the antics of two sets of twins and, oh my, who's who? I'm so confused and I'm wetting my pants!

In Year Three of The Shakespeare Club, I first introduced the story of "Twelfth Night." We watched a movie version together and I had more than one club member slip me this idea:

"Ms. Ryane?" Geoffrey whispered.

"Yes?" I whispered back.

"Next year Ethan and Polly should play the twins!" He elevated his whisper.

"Do ya think?"

"Yes, because they really are twins!" And he bursts into full voice.

"Get out."

And it's true, I have a pair of ten-year-old twins, Polly and Ethan, in the club. I've said it once and I'll say it again: Sometimes casting is so easy.

When we did "Romeo & Juliet," Polly was one of our two narrators and she wanted to play a part so badly. "But, Ms. Ryane, I could learn lines...I could."

Ethan played that naughty boy, Mercutio. He struggled both with his vocal level and with learning lines, but he got his performance up to snuff in the nick of time.

When Polly was in the first grade she was held back a year "because I didn't talk or something," she tells me.

Ethan, also held back, spent his first three years in remedial study. He told his teacher he "felt dirty" in those classes even though he collected copies of Shakespeare's plays and read them at home.

In "Twelfth Night," Viola and Sebastian are at sea in a terrible storm. Their vessel is ripped apart, as are brother and sister, and they spend much of the play trying to find each other in the zany world of Illyria.

Polly, as Viola, has the longest speeches in the play. A child who had a history of not talking or something now has to carry the show.

Ethan, who is entirely self-conscious about even standing center stage, needs lots of coaxing to speak up and face out.

The three of us have challenges ahead, but none more so than the recognition scene at the end of the play:

So I stand there? I never had a brother.
Of charity, what kin are you to me?
What name? What parentage?

Of Messaline. Sebastian was my father.
Such a Sebastian was my brother too.

Viola takes off her cap, revealing her true identity. Brother and sister step toward each other and give the audience a big aaahhh moment as they hug.

"Okay, Polly...Ethan...hug. No really, a nice hug...not hit and run."

I begged for months, never sure it would happen. They never embraced in rehearsal. Not once. They slapped at each other, they faked a fast half-clinch and separated quickly back to their corners like scaredy-cats in a prize fight.

"Okay, you two. I know this feels seriously weird to be hugging your brother or sister on stage in front of all your friends and stuff...but it's not about you's about what's best for the audience and I think they deserve it...don't you?"

Shrug, shuffle, shrug, shuffle.

First happened...lightning fast...but it was there. I caught it out of the corner of my eye.

Then, the reaction....They heard their teachers sigh. Aaahhh.

Second happened again...slower. Ooohhh.

By the final performance they were milking it and I swear Shakespeare from on high murmured, "Yes, kids...that's what I wrote....Good stuff."

Dear Dad,

Methink thy brother Sabastein is gone down in tis sea. Drown tis Sabastein, water filled thy lungs. Thy hope tis is not true, but the possiblites to high and I think only thy capin and me survived. Doom thy feel and hope he is still alive if not I might as well die. This news I hope you don't belive as much as I do.

—Polly, 5th grade

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