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Photograph by Kit Wilder
Like-Minded: Orlando (Thom Gorrebeeck) and Rosalind (Kimberly Johnson) from 'As You Like It' get remadein 'Shakespod.'

Lend Me Your Earbuds

City Lights' 'Shakespod' shuffles the best of the Bard's words and characters through an iPod

By Marianne Messina

AT CITY LIGHTS Theater Company, Kimberly Johnson womans the office by day and stage-manages at night for the current production of A Few Good Men, and between show nights, she is in rehearsals for the upcoming American premiere of Jeffrey Bracco's play Shakespod, a City Lights Spotlight production in collaboration with Willing Suspension Theater, opening June 18 for a one-week run. "It's been pretty tiring," Johnson admits, but you wouldn't know it from her wide-eyed smiles and youthful energy.

Playing Rosalind, the Shakespod character she describes as "genuine" and "accessible," Johnson is the stuff of today's Everygirl. In the story, Rosalind is given an iPod that not only plays Shakespeare but makes everyone around it spout Shakespeare. Unlike Shakespeare's Rosalind, daughter of a banished duke in As You Like It, this Rosalind leaves home to avoid a forced marriage. Though Rosalind's love interest is still Orlando (Johnson has dubbed actor Thomas Gorrebeeck "dreamy" in the role), their struggle to get together intersects with Romeo and Juliet thanks to her rabble-rousing brother Mercutio.

In this way, Shakespod is contemporary music of sorts, a giant remix of samples from Shakespeare's original stories played in fresh contexts. "Our Angelo [villain from Measure for Measure]—it's Madam Angelo; she's a woman," says Bracco. "I borrow in that way; I change gender from the original Shakespeare, which of course Shakespeare did himself."

Bracco is in town from his residence in Paris to work with director Kit Wilder and the City Lights cast, "supporting them in any way I can." Johnson reports that Bracco's input has not only helped her technically—when to put in or remove the iPod earpieces—but in understanding how the iPod shapes her character's life. Still "discovering herself," Rosalind turns to the iPod in difficult situations. "She'll try to find tracks that propel the story," Johnson explains. "It's her trying to find a way to explain herself. ... If she can find the right track, Shakespeare does some of the work for her."

Having written, directed and toured Shakespod in France, Bracco says he has "had the play to himself" long enough, and is looking forward to "other people's creative work going on top of what I did." He was thrilled when his longtime colleague Wilder agreed to direct the play. "It's really great to give it away to people I trust."

After only a few rehearsals, Bracco is struck by the cast's ability to bring "energy and urgency" to the material under Wilder's direction. He also remarks that Wilder's instinct for physicality has raised the stakes.

"It's turned out, so far, much more physical than I had imagined," Bracco reports, noting Wilder's ramped-up version of a fight that takes place during a protest (agitated by Mercutio). "It adds to the importance of the scene, I think."

Bracco may have begun this Shakespeare fusion for pedagogical reasons—"My goal in writing the play was really to show how current and accessible Shakespeare really is"—but the Bard taught him a thing or two. Watching French-speaking audiences respond to the play (sell-out audiences, schools that used it to work their English) taught Bracco that Shakespeare extends beyond language, because it is physical and visual; it has a rhythm; it contains situations everyone can relate to.

Bracco is relieved that the actors in this production, recrafted for English-speaking audiences, will be free to speak a lot faster. As a one-act play, Shakespod benefits from a quick pace and what Bracco calls a sense of urgency. "It all happens very quickly to Rosalind, and I think if you don't give it that kind of energy, then the audience just isn't going to care about it." While assisting with this production, Bracco is also preparing another production of the play—"Thank God for email"—that will be presented the end of the summer at the famous Fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. The ever-popular Bard.

SHAKESPOD plays June 18–22, Wednesday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm at City Lights, 529 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $10–$20. (408.295.4200)

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