OREM — Grassroots Shakespeare Company continues to do what it does best: provide entertaining and well-executed productions of Shakespeare’s work in a way that is as fun as it is accessible, ensuring that anyone—no matter the age or exposure to the bard’s work—can enjoy a show.
Twelfth Night is a light and frothy Shakespeare comedy featuring mistaken identity, cross-dressing, pranks, and kerfuffles. It is one of my favorites, and I was delighted to see it produced so well by the folks at Grassroots.
Grassroots shows are produced without a director, and so it is a credit to the actors that they work so well as an ensemble. As a group, they have a masterful understanding of pitch, pacing, and color, as well as a deft handling of comedy, playing moments to the audience in a way that makes gentle mugging both charming and effective.
As an outdoor touring company, this group must endure the unpredictable outdoor environment, and I’ve seen them perform in rain and sweltering heat. This particular performance was no different, as a musical group began playing about three-quarters of the way through the show, completely drowning out the voices of the actors, who nevertheless continued to bellow heroically. Some of them even acknowledged the cacophony, infusing humor into a hopeless situation, and for that they are to be lauded.
If I did have one criticism for this production, however, it would be the volume. These are outdoor productions, conditions to which many young actors are not accustomed. I was able to hear most of the players the majority of the time (musical interruptions aside), but there were moments when actors leaped down to perform in front of the stage or turned their heads to address a fellow actor instead of the audience, and I lost their lines. The majority of the audience was seated on the ground, so having actors perform on a lower level than the stage was unfortunate, as they could be neither seen nor heard.
One standout, both in volume and in performance, was Jessica Jean Myer as Olivia. Olivia is the “desired beauty” of the piece, a role that can often be played as one-note because it is a trope without much variety. But I was pleased to see Myer add some beautiful melodramatic comedy into the role. She hammed it up and chewed the scenery like a vaudevillian actor of yore, and it actually really worked. For me it was something new and different, and I appreciated the take on Olivia. In her scenes attempting to catch the attention of Viola—whom she thinks is a young man named Cesario—Myer used her physicality to dominate both Viola and the stage.
Other noteworthy performances were Addison Radle as Sir Toby Belch and Madelyn Pettingill as Maria, the two pranksters behind a large portion of the comedy of Twelfth Night. Radle clearlyhas the makings of a great physical comedian, as he bounded around the stage, creeping and hopping and clowning and looking as though he was having the time of his life. In contrast, Pettingill played Maria with stillness and evenness that balanced out the energy of the more frantic Sir Toby and Sir Andrew (played by Topher Rasmussen). Pettingill’s ability to find comedy in placidity delivered variety and flavor to the piece as a whole. The pair’s varying styles shone particularly in a scene where they are carrying on late into the night, much to the annoyance of the irascible Malvolio (played by Chris Hults). They meet Malvolio’s complaints merrily, scoffing at his insistence at being a kill-joy.
Summertime can mean a lot of lazy days to fill with activities (especially for families), and what better activity than spending some time with this convivial little company of players? Grassroots Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night perfectly fits the bill for a leisurely summer evening, I highly recommend it.