Jukebox Joyful Dance Through Shakespeare

Cape Cod Times | August 12, 2006 | By Diana Kenney

In the land of iPod and TiVo, where you can string together your favorite songs or TV shows and skip the rest, where does that old wit Shakespeare fit in?

Wellfleet’s Knighthorse Theatre Company has figured out how to offer brilliant bits of the Bard on demand: Shakespearean Jukebox, playing at the Payomet Performing Arts Center.

This interactive show is instantly appealing to people of all ages and levels of familiarity with Shakespeare.  The audience members are given a list of Shakespeare’s 38 plays and asked to spring their requests on Knighthorse, which is the husband-and-wife team of Tyrus Lemerande and Amy McLaughlin Lemerande.

The night I saw it, we were treated to boffo scenes from seven different plays.  This may sound gimmicky, but it’s a fantastic way to hook people into Shakespeare, especially children.  We all know Shakespeare can go on and on.  For every hell’s-a-poppin’ action scene there is usually a long, talky passage that by the end has everybody (except the English majors) dazed and confused. “Shakespearean Jukebox” gets at the best parts without making the audience work too hard, without turning them off before they have a chance to get clued in.

The Lemerande’s bend over backward to involve the audience.  Besides letting us select the program, they invite all children to sit onstage, where they are cast as fairies or pages to often comical results.  Forget about dozing off, because the house lights are kept on at all times and the Lemerandes directly address individual audience members.

And the feistier audience members, when talked to, talk back.  That invites the surreal experience of finding out what they are thinking as the show unfolds, instead of sitting in the dark in your own private cocoon.  When Amy delivered Kate’s famous soliloquy from The Taming of the Shrew, she asked a woman in the audience, “And when (a wife) is froward, peevish, sullen, sour/And not obedient to (her husband’s) will/What is she?” the audience member unexpectedly shot back, “Perfect.”

The Lemerandes guide us merrily and skillfully into Shakespeare.  When a scene is requested, they give a “nutshell” version of the play’s plot in modern English before acting it out.  It also helps that they are extremely physical actors, comfortable and daring with each other.

They pick each other up, knock each other down, kiss, punch, seduce, wrestle and mess with each other to an eye-popping degree, which went over hugely well.

Tyrus Lemerande has a gigantic stage presence and he knows his stuff.  Back-to-back, he can do a monstrous Caliban from The Tempest, a sneaky Hotspur from Henry IV, Part I, a drunken Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew and a truly moving, tragic King Lear, cast out into the storm by his pitiless daughters.  Lemerande is winningly energetic and he uses his hands like a language, creating gestures that resonate with the text.

Have the Lemerande’s actually memorized all of Shakespeare, so they could do any scene requested?  No, not yet.  One audience member brought up the “chink in the wall” scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which is one of my favorites too), but the Lemerandes sidestepped it and instead did the love-starved Hermia pursuing poor Demetrius in the wood (also great, rambunctious fun).  But give the Lemrandes time – they might get all of Shakespeare under their belts, even the boring parts!