Playing thru Halloween 2011

PROVO — The Grassroots Shakespeare company never ceases to put on a good—nay, a great—show. Their open air, “original practices” approach to Shakespeare, and to theater in general, is refreshing and just plain comfortable. Their current show Macbeth, while it wasn’t my favorite Grassroots production so far, nonetheless held up the theater company’s reputation for being a great night at the theater. Plus, it’s probably the cheapest show around, with quality immensely exceeding price.

Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, Macbeth, tells the tale of a Scottish thane (a.k.a. count), Macbeth, and his quest for Scotland’s throne. The play opens as Macbeth encounters three witches who prophesy his rise to be king. He and his wife accordingly plot to kill the current king and ensure Macbeth is next in line. Sounds like a perfect October show, right? (Yes, there is a midnight Halloween show!) With an action-packed plot full of murder and intrigue in hand, the Grassroots Shakespeare Company threw in plenty of their signature zest. A band of violin, guitar, accordion, and various percussion instruments accented scenes’ moods perfectly, not to mention provided some extra doses of humor here and there. Yes, humor. They found a wonderful balance between intense drama and split-your-side humor; I’ve never laughed so much during a production of Macbeth. I especially enjoyed the pre-show (get there early!) where various cast members and friends of the company entertained with their musical skills.

The Castle Amphitheater is a unique venue, and Grassroots definitely played to its strengths. They recreated the feel of Shakespeare’s own Globe theater, complete with groundlings leaning against the stage and practically part of the action. But don’t worry; they also provide gallery seats for those who want a more typical theater-viewing experience. Dress warm no matter where you’re sitting. I would also recommend that you look up a quick plot summary before you go if you’re not familiar with the story (or if you’ve forgotten a few major plot points, like me).

Eric D. Geels and Heather Murdock as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth brought an interesting likability to their characters, one I haven’t seen before. Geels especially played a Macbeth who seemed to be a noble and loyal courtier until greed and pride slowly destroyed him. I loved watching his fascinating transformation from joyous, conquering soldier to merciless tyrant. The most memorable characters were probably the witches, though, played wonderfully by three of the male cast members (in wigs and cloaks), Robbie X. Pierce, Jordan Kramer, and Wes Tolman. Seeing the witches for the first time brought plenty of laughter from the audience, but once the shock the actors wore off, the witches instead became these eerie, netherworld creatures with powers to both make you laugh and send chills down your spine. I must also mention the porter (Zoe Wilde), whose talent and charisma shone during her big monologue, and the electric energy of the entire cast during the final battle scenes. Honestly, the entire cast was great. I could go on and on. The Grassroots ensemble is by far one of the strongest I’ve seen in Utah county. Not only are they all great actors, but the most interesting thing about the company is that they are self-directed, meaning they have no director and make all their decisions as a cast.

If you ask me, though, light was the star of the show — from basic lamp light to fill the stage to colored light, lanterns, strobe lights, and shadows. Scenes were set, characters were identified, and the mood was entirely at the mercy of the light. I loved it. Darkness felt thicker and more sinister when the stage was washed in blue. Characters seemed utterly alone and vulnerable when they stood onstage with only a small lantern. When strobe lights were used the audience was mesmerized, and when shadows filled the back curtain I realized I was witnessing some stellar storytelling.

All around, Grassroots has put together a thrilling show. My review really doesn’t begin to do it justice. Just go see it!

The Grassroots Shakespeare Company production of Macbeth plays at the Castle Amphitheater (1300 E. Center Street in Provo, east of the main administration building of the Utah State Hospital) October 27-29 at 8 PM and October 31 at 9 PM and midnight. Tickets are $3-17. For more information, visit