PROVO — Theatre is purest when it is done for the love of it. For the past 14 years, Grassroots Shakespeare Company is a non-profit troupe that has been jovially passing the Bard around Utah like a mug of beer. As the actors explained before their production of The Tempest, they run their company how Shakespeare’s King’s Men ran theirs: without a director, without much rehearsal, and with ample audience engagement.
And engage the audience they did. The actors asked audience members questions, walked through the aisles, and gave some people squirt guns and bubble wands. The show was communal and inviting. At the same time, I observed that the story was more an excuse to engage with the audience than anything. Some actors would go long stretches of a scene barely looking at their partners because everything was directed out past the stage. The storytelling got lost, but the opportunity for audience members to feel part of the show was gained. Maybe this is the King’s Men way.
The show can some storytelling and still make sense because the plot and characters of The Tempest aren’t difficult to follow: there is a shipwrecked king who mourns his dead son, an enslaved spirit who wants her freedom, and a duke conspiring to kill his brother for power. I give kudos to the cast for making the plot easy to understand, despite the difficult language. Additionally, the foley crew and band that amplified the ambience of the scenes without overpowering them.
I especially appreciated the actors who fully embodied their characters, including Katherine Moulton as the charismatic Prospero. Drake Hansen was unapologetically monstrous as Caliban. Miranda Maurin brought a lot of clarity to her role as Miranda. A few line hiccups hardly stalled the momentum, which was amazing given the actors’ two-week rehearsal period.
Kaden Caldwell as Trinculo brought the most humor to the play, with his hilarious southern accent and strong comedic timing. Normally, when I see Shakespeare’s plays, I get caught up in the dense language. With a lower-stakes production, there was less pressure for either cast or audience to understand every word because the whole point was for everyone — on stage and off — to have fun. Caldwell’s feat was that he had the most fun and seemed to understand his lines the most.
The cast delivered the story well in not just acting, but costume design. Each actor created their own costumes and makeup, and most went beyond just explaining who their character was but interpreting them theatrically. Alyssa Tanner Vaughn created an ethereal, bohemian Ariel through her ornate face makeup and hair extensions. Moulton’s seashell necklace, fishnet hairwrap, and breezy blouse layered with a sundress gave Prospero a tropical feeling.
And it certainly felt like The Tempest was happening in the tropics: the best part of the production was getting to watch The Tempest in the rain. The raised wooden platform would have sufficed as a set, but Mother Nature made all of the environment part of the production, peppering the first half of the show with rain until the story’s resolution cleared the skies (literally).
The Tempest is a wonderful summer outing for the family. There is something lovely about playmaking for the joy of it, about watching grassroots theatre on the grass, about the story of a storm taken in under an umbrella. The characters remarked that the island they shipwrecked on saved them from the storm. The stage that was their island did serve as a refuge for cast and audience alike from the troubles of the everyday. That is true even though the stage was the target of a literal heavy rainstorm. Still, those joyful players banged their tambourines, did their dance, and fell in love until the storm subsided.