Young Shakespearean Actors Match Sonnets, Soliloquies; A Trip to New York City Was the Thing at Stake for 12 Teen Thespians

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel

James Christian knelt o'er the imaginary body of his good friend Julius Caesar, dead by treachery, and challenged his killers to take his life, too.

"I do beseech ye," he thundered, "if you bear me hard/Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke/Fulfill your pleasure."

Those "purpled hands."

That part of Antony's soliloquy is what caught Christian's eye while reading Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." He's 17, a student at Oakleaf High and the play was tough going. At first. But soon he couldn't stop.

"There's a lot of greed and vengeance. A lot of back-stabbing, really. I was, like, dang! All this in one play? You've got to be kidding me."

On Saturday morning, he was one 12 high-school students trying to get across all the greed and vengeance - and the love and humor - in Shakespeare's words. They took part in an annual competition at the Friday Musicale in Riverside, put on by the Jacksonville Branch of the English-Speaking Union.

Each read a Shakespearean sonnet and soliloquy of their choice.

At stake? A free trip to New York, to compete against winners from English-Speaking Unions around the country. That event's on April 23, 396 years to the day of the writer's death.

Not everything went smoothly. James Richardson of Keystone Heights High was just a couple of lines into Sonnet 38 when the rest of it slipped away. Seconds crawled by in silence. Then a cellphone in the audience blared. It rang again, and again.

He gave up on the sonnet. He remained a trouper though, rebounding with a soliloquy from "King Lear" that he wrapped up with tears in his eyes.

All's well that ends well, though: Later, he said he was actually relieved when the phone rang. "It helped to break the tension, made me feel a little better," he said.

Before his turn, Gopal Popoff of Middleburg High showed friends his shaking hands. But he became an audience favorite with an energetically comic soliloquy as Moth from "Love's Labour's Lost." "I was really nervous," he said later. "Did I show it up there?"

Popoff, 17, said he feels a connection to Shakespeare. He likes to imagine him hanging with friends, bouncing dialogue and plot twists off them. "That's probably not how it happened, though," he said. …