OREM — When I first learned that Grassroots Shakespeare Company have very few production rehearsals, and that cast members create and provide their own costumes and props I was skeptical. Add to that the all-female casting of a traditionally male heavy production and I wasn’t expecting much. Shakespeare has never been my friend and my past experience of Julius Caesar involved unenthusiastic teenagers. However, if high school students could experience Julius Caesar as performed by Grassroots Shakespeare Company, then I believe they would catch a contagious enthusiasm and gain a positive experience with a Shakespeare tragedy.
Even before the show began the Grassroots Shakespeare Company was warming up their audience and setting the tone of the evening with a minstrel show. I was sucked into the energy of the performers. The musicians created an environment that encouraged audience interaction that continued throughout the evening. The cast came out and joined the musicians in their last number before the scripted performance began. By the time the show started I was feeling less skeptical about the evening and was excited to see what was in store.
I truly enjoyed my evening watching Grassroots Shakespeare Company. I was worried that an all-female cast would be distracting from the script, but the actors made me forget that is was an all-female cast. They weren’t females playing male roles, but rather they were the characters they were portraying.
Caesar was played by Bianca Morrison Dillard, while Brutus was played by Jessamyn Svensson. Although I would have liked to have seen more of a relationship between Brutus and Caesar in the beginning, Svensson did an excellent job in portraying Brutus in his guilt and grief over the assassination of Caesar. The moment of “Et tu Brute” was fascinating; I loved seeing a flicker of hesitation from Brutus before the final wound was inflicted.
The delight of this show was in the supporting characters. I particularly enjoyed Brighton Hertford’s portrayal of Cassius. Hertford brought high energy in the opening scene between Cassius and Brutus, and Hertford and Svensson created a nice foil from the start between these two characters. Hertford showed a wide range of emotions from start to finish. A standout moment was just before Brutus tells of losing Portia. If all of the relationships in this production could feel as well developed as the relationship between Brutus and Cassius in that scene, then this production would have been very well rounded and solid.
I also need to mention Alaynah Woodhouse’s performance as Marc Anthony. I still don’t know how I feel about Anthony, whether I should like him or be wary of him. Woodhouse created the perfect politician, complete with a compelling performance of the well known “lend me your ears” speech. I felt that her portrayal of Anthony was thick with layers ana nuance. I frequently moved from loving Anthony one moment to wariness about his motives in other moments.
I loved that although the set was a simple platform with curtains, it was still well designed and put together. The colors and patterns on the curtains added a little pizazz to the plain bare stage. Wooden barrels were placed just under the stage platform and added a nice decorative touch. Often simple sets are plain and bare, but this set, while simple, helped establish a fun and historical feel. The whole stage was reminiscent of pageant wagons in days long past. It remained true to the grassroots feel and goal of the company.
Although this was a tragedy, the cast introduced humor and a fun energy that encouraged the audience to become involved with the production by shouting and cheering and even booing the moments on stage. Often cast members joined the audience creating a feel of really being a part of the Roman crowd. I felt like a part of the production, and not just a viewer through a window. If you want a heavy dramatic performance this is not the show for you. However, if you enjoy a show that can be dramatic and still make you laugh at times, then this production of Julius Caesar is a good pick. The relaxed atmosphere allows audience members to just enjoy the show and not get caught up in trying to understand every line of the script. Even if those who are hesitant about Shakespeare productions can lose themselves in a delightful evening. If all Shakespeare productions today were performed in this manner, than I’d find myself at more Shakespeare performances.