PROVO — It has been nine years since Vindici’s wife Gloriana was poisoned by the Duke for spurring his advances. Now she is but a skull, carried around in ghoulish fashion by her husband, who seeks vengeance for her death. As they say, you gotta play the long game.
Having never seen a Jacobean production outside of William Shakespeare, I was looking forward to my introduction into that world as presented by the Grassroots Shakespeare Company, a troop I have come to trust to put on a delightful and informative show. Once again, they did not disappoint. The Revenger’s Tragedy was everything I was hoping it would be: gruesome, lewd, funny, devilish, and entertaining as all get-out.
As is the usual with Grassroots productions, this play was mounted traditionally. This meant that the actors worked collaboratively and without a director, memorizing their lines individually and showing up to rehearse for just a few days before performing. I am ceaselessly blown away by their ability to do this. These are serious actors who know their craft, and they have such fun together, making everything they do look effortless.
Davey Morrison Dillard is, in my opinion, one of the great talents of Utah. In this production he played Ambitioso, the son of the duchess, and a plotting knave who is trying to take over the dukedom by arranging the deaths of his brothers. Dillard pranced about the stage with buoyant waggery, his precise physical comedy only matched by his mastery of the language. So magnetic was he that even as a side character who was found almost constantly at the side of his brother Supervacuo, I found my attention fixed on him. In one scene where he beats a hapless prison guard to a bloody pulp, he had me in stitches.
Though all of the actors were more than capable, the one standout for me was Daniel Fenton Anderson as Lussurioso, the lecherous eldest son of the duke who, like his father, has a voracity and lust that get him in Vindici’s path and lead to his sticky end. Like Dillard, Anderson has a handle on his craft that would be right at home on a professional stage, and I hope to see him perform again.
The production itself was just so much fun. The clowning, mugging, tossing about of blood, and masterful execution of the format all came together to amuse and tickle the audience; and, after all, that is the purpose for which Thomas Middleton’s bloody little play is intended. A live band accompanied the piece, lending bouncy dynamism and silly sound effects to the melodrama, which was done wonderfully.
I applaud Grassroots for having the confidence to step into a lesser-known work, particularly one that has found controversy due to its black comedic tone and campy violence, along with its portrayal of women. If anyone has the capability to make a silk purse, it’s these folk–and they do it with panache.