PLEASANT GROVE — Shakespeare’s plays are something that everyone seems to run into at some point in their lives. It is required reading in most high school curricula, and anyone who takes any English literature post-high school is bound to run into some there as well. Movies have been based, sometimes extremely loosely, on almost all of Shakespeare’s plays. The books written about his works could easily fill several libraries. Very few other writers have enjoyed such overwhelming interest in their works 400 years after they were written. In any given year, you can see dozens of productions of Shakespeare’s works in thousands of locations across the country and around the globe ranging from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the local Grassroots Shakespeare Company. Our own Tony Award winning Utah Shakespeare Festival presents excellent versions of the bard’s works each summer and fall. So why go see Grassroots? Because it’s just so gosh darn fun!
Grassroots Shakespeare Company was created, according to their website, to explore the original practices of Shakespeare’s stagecraft. Their summer productions are open-air events that travel from location to location across Utah. They have no tickets, programs, director, or elaborate sets or costumes. Attending a GSC show is an experience unlike any other. The stage is made to look like platform or boards hastily placed atop several barrels. Two ladders and sheets of spattered muslin define the playing space. The musicians sit to one side of stage and provide a fitting “soundtrack” for the show. All this on a night during which the weather could not have been more perfect for a play in the park.
On June 17th, I saw their production of As You Like It in Pleasant Grove. As You Like It is a typical Shakespeare comedy with mistaken identities, exiled dukes, mismatched lovers and, of course, a happy reconciliation at the end. The players were all very good and performed their parts with energy and charm. As I stated above, they do not have programs so these fine actors will remain anonymous. This particular location had the unique challenge of a carnival ride operating across the street and therefore every 10 mins. or so we had to deal with a great grinding noise from that contraption. But the actors took it in stride. For the most part, the actors projected well and all lines were easily understood. The only actor who seemed hard to hear was the character of Phebe, but she was so cute in her role, you almost didn’t mind. This was a group of about 10-12 actors playing the 20 or so roles that are listed in the play. It was fun to see the choices that they made for the different characters and the costuming that was chosen. As stated on their website, the actors provide their own costumes, and they were a diverse mix; tennis pro to boy scout, luchador wrestling to thrift store garish, and everything in between.
The show was fast paced, and I was surprised that it was over in only 90 minutes. And it was such fun; even my 10- and 13-year-old sons had a great time and want to know when they can see another of their shows. The audience at this particular show was small, but very appreciative. This is not your typical Shakespeare production. There are moments that, if they occurred in other productions, would have seemed highly out of place (the Mexican wrestler’s mask, the batting around of tennis balls, and the hilarious portrayal of Audrey, to name but a few), but you forgive that because you are just having such a great time. Don’t go expecting RSC. Don’t count on high production values like the Utah Shakespeare Festival. This has a feel more like the greenshow, and easily as much fun. But above all, do go. You’re not likely to see such a group of talented you young actors enjoying Shakespeare and translating it in the “original practices” as you will find at Grassroots Shakespeare Company. Here’s hoping they can continue this “new” tradition for many years.