KAYSVILLE — Romeo and Juliet by the Grassroots Shakespeare Company isn’t just a “play” or a “show”; it’s an experience. It felt like a concert: the energy, the flexibility, and the interaction with the audience. The stage was outlined on the grass with a small rope, the curtain was hung between two ladders. I didn’t get to hide in the dark like a good little reviewer; I was inches from the actors, so I know that my face was broadcasting my review as I smiled for an hour and a half, and practically bruised my cheek muscles.
Grassroots is a second-year theatre troupe from Utah County, whose aim is to present Shakespeare in its original form. They perform outdoors with simple costumes and minimal set. There is no director, no tickets, nothing but the play. One actor explained to us that Shakespeare often posed questions to the audience in his plays, and that our participation would improve the overall production. We were even encouraged to throw rotten fruit if the play did not meet our expectations.
They shared Shakespeare’s classic story with us—nothing dumbed-down or modernized. The Montagues hate the Capulets and the Capulets return the favor. Conflict sneaks around the streets of Verona, until Romeo and Juliet meet. Then things just fall to pieces: murders, banishment, poisons, and a dagger. The family feud loses each household a beloved child. It’s a familiar story to most, I hope.
This production reminded me of parts I didn’t remember and enlightened me to things I’d never noticed. While the Grassroots’ blog complimented their Kaysville audience…
“They were our smartest and most responsive audience yet–picking up on a lot of the humor some others had missed.” (Grassroots Blog)
…the credit is really due to the performers. Each line was so well understood by the actors that it really translated to us in the audience; this troupe knows their stuff inside and out. Their mastery of the characters allows them the freedom to really play and explore within the story, I think. It was so much fun to see lines turned a way I hadn’t thought of them before: pardon me if I misquote, “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” (They really are just lovestruck teenagers, I realized.)
The first half of the play was a party, to me. Romeo is so wonderfully dramatic, heartbroken over another girl, whining around the stage, while his hilarious friends try to snap him out of it. Mercutio, especially, was such a delight in this show. His physicality and facial expressions were beyond hilarious to me. Each moment in this play was interesting, filled with little touches like an accordion, a violin, a guitar, juggling balls, and colorful masks. I enjoyed the fighting, the playing, and the dancing.
The story takes an unhappy turn, thanks to Shakespeare, and the party goes out the window, but the show remained solid and entertaining. There were genuine moments of emotion; one as Juliet says goodbye to her banished husband, Romeo; it’s visible to the audience that both characters were honestly grieving. Throughout the show, too, Romeo’s emotions always rang true to his young and passionate character. It was an energetic show; vibrant and full of talent. I was pleased with each actor’s performance, so much creativity and detail. There was no program, so I am sad not to include any names; but let it suffice that The Grassroots Shakespeare Company, in my opinion, has given Utah a gift in this show and in these young actors.
It was a joyous evening on the lawn with Romeo and Juliet. Bring a chair, watch the weather report, and make sure not to miss this true-to-Shakespeare event. You’ll surely bite your thumb if you do.