By Larisa Hicken
If you’re looking for a way to get into the Halloween spirit, there’s no better way than attending Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s presentation of Titus Andronicus at the Castle Ampitheater in Provo. Just follow the dark winding path up behind the State Mental Hospital.
Titus Andronicus is certainly not Shakespeare’s most well-known play and for good reason – the plot revolves around a whole lot of killing, rape, and most importantly, revenge. And that’s about it.
I have a bit of a weak stomach, so I was nervous when I read the teaser on their website: “You know you’re dying for some blood, sweat, and tears to spray, drip, and splatter on you and your date.” Um… what?
If you’re unfamiliar with the Grassroots Shakespeare Company, they began five years ago with the mission to perform Shakespeare plays in the original format of Shakespeare’s day. That means the actors only rehearse for a couple of weeks, the set is basically a simple platform, and costume pieces are whatever the actors can throw together in that time. In fact, they were still screwing in set pieces five minutes before start time.
In true Shakespeare tradition, the Grassroots players chose to play to their audience, who they obviously understand very well. They did indeed splatter and splash their way through each grisly murder in a delightful dark comedy style. Instead of gagging, the audience was laughing and groaning as cast members were, well, dismembered. I never could have imagined how much fun I would have with such a gruesome show!
I’m sure the “groundlings” who stood at the front of the stage felt like they were an integral part of the show. I certainly enjoyed watching them all jump back while I sipped my hot cocoa in my super comfy lawn chair toward the back row.
The show is accompanied by a live band. There were a few moments where I wasn’t sure why they were still playing since it was a bit difficult to hear what the actors were saying – mainly in scenes where there wasn’t a lot of action and the plot was simply being explained. But overall the band really added to the intensity of some scenes and the absurdity of others.
Mark Oram plays the title role of Titus Andronicus and he is an absolute delight. I kept thinking to myself, “I’m watching a true master of the Shakespearean stage.” He’s one of those actors that you figure must have been born burping in Elizabethan cadences and pooping out sonnets because he performs Shakespeare so naturally. It came as no surprise to find out he was one of the founding members of the Grassroots company.
Fellow Grassroots founder Alex Ungerman plays Titus’ son Lucius Andronicus, the surprise hero of the show. His character was well-developed and the interplay between Oram and Ungerman was one of the best parts of the show.
Andy Hansen was thrown off a bit by a few dropped lines at the beginning, but once he found his rhythm again, he gave a solid performance as Titus’ brother Marcus Andronicus. Claire Wilson is a dynamic actress who gave the character of Lavinia more depth than most of the other characters. Her love relationship with Nick Gledhill as Bassianus seemed comfortable and natural.
Shawn Saunders plays the villainous role of Aaron the Moor with so much raw vehemence and delight that I was a bit nervous passing him on my way out of the ampitheater after the show. Aaron’s lover and evil cohort, Tamara the Goth, was played by Jessamyn Svensson. She was terrific in her interactions with the groundlings as they booed and hissed at her when she came on stage.
Jessica Myer is double cast as Tamara and during the show I watched, she played the nurse. Without too much of a spoiler (because everyone dies in this show) she gave a stellar performance in her death scene.
The two evil buffoons Chiron and Demitrius (Tamara’s sons) were played by AJ Taysom and Eric Geels. Their physical humor and bawdy gestures were highly entertaining and the audience loved to hate them.
My favorite character of the night was Saturninus played by Nick Groussaint. Groussaint was simply awesome as he whined and pouted his way through the night. At several points in the show, I was wishing for some rotten fruit to throw at him.
Don’t wait another minute. Grab a group of your rowdiest friends and buy tickets online to save a few bucks. Put on your rain poncho and get over to see this show before Halloween. Your friends will thank you – after they wipe the entrails out of their hair.
Titus Andronicus plays October 17 – November 1, 2014, 8:00 PM at the Castle Amphitheatre, 1300 East Center Street, Provo Utah.
October 17 – 27, 2014
$10 Yard Tickets (standing)
$18 Gallery Tickets
October 30 – November 1, 2014
$12 Yard Tickets (standing)
$20 Gallery Tickets
Discount tickets available online.
Before the show started, we were lucky enough to hear the band Echo Era. They have a fun alternative sound with strong roots in jazz. Each band member played a dizzying number of instruments and their original songs were very cool. I was delighted to find out that you can download some of their music on their website!