By Eliza Een, Front Row Reviewers
Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth at The Gateway in Salt Lake City, Utah, is an excellent way to get in the Halloween spirit that teen-to-adult audiences will enjoy. Grassroots Shakespeare Company (GSC) seems to have more fun with performing Shakespeare’s works than any other cast and crew I’ve ever seen, making the stories and the text more accessible to all audiences. And they aren’t shy about letting the audience in on the fun. We sang and danced along with songs in the pre-show and chatted with cast members while they mopped up at intermission. GSC’s plays are collaboratively directed and costumed, which leads to some fun moments throughout. For Halloween, the company is going all-out with the blood, gore, and glory of the action-packed Macbeth.
The titular Macbeth is performed by Ben Isaacs. Isaacs’s internal monologues and vacillating plans show moments where they could have turned from Macbeth’s path of destruction, demonstrating depth of character and leaning into the writing. Isaacs’s performance makes space for the audience’s pity while showcasing the absolute arrogance of Macbeth. As Isaacs descends into madness, their costuming and makeup follows suit, enhancing their performance. Also, I just about died from laughter when Isaacs came out onstage in bright red long johns after their midnight murder.
Our leading Lady Macbeth is played by Katherine Moulton, who portrays the decisive and demanding character with beautiful intensity. Moulton’s costume choices for Lady Macbeth are reminiscent of Black Widow, working with the clan color scheme for the Macbeths and warning the audience that she is not to be trifled with. From the scheming and exacting wife to the haunted husk of her former self, Moulton’s Lady Macbeth is captivating—the epitome of gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss.
Alyssa Tanner-Vaughn plays our Macduff, a loyal but wary warrior as shown through her fight scenes, which are some of the most difficult of the show. Her continuity with the injury sustained in the opening scenes was a fun way to connect with other actors’ performances and be fully invested. Her soliloquy was one of the most moving moments of the show. Another just and incorruptible character is Banquo, played by Alyx Vaughn (also Young Macduff, Seyton). If I were to give out gold stars, Alyx Vaughn would get one for commitment and for inspiring terror in each of her death scenes. The ghost scene at the banquet is especially enthralling as the audience can hardly tear their eyes away from zombified Alyx Vaughn, while the other actors–aside from Isaacs–ignore her completely.
Jack Bell as Ross and Joseph Wilson as King Duncan (also Lennox, Siward) show a baseline of normal to which the audience can compare the insane antics of most of the other characters. Playing two surviving sons is Courtney Christiansen as Malcolm and Fleance. Christiansen’s innocence and decorum sets them apart from many of the other morally gray characters and heightens the tragedies she experiences. Claire Stucki as Porter (also Doctor, Murderer) provides some necessary lightheartedness for the show, and Stucki absolutely smashes the porter’s monologue, which plays like a stand-up comedy.
The three witches, Brynne Lamb (also Murderer, Young Siward), Sarah Wilkins (also Lady Macduff), and Anne Post Fife (also Murderer, Gentlewoman) set an eerie tone for the prophecies regarding Macbeth and Banquo. They work excellently in harmony with each other in their movements and chants, adding ASL that is picked up by actors throughout the show, especially for character names. It’s awesome to see this kind of diversity represented and highlighted onstage. This was the first time my sister has seen Macbeth, she said their use of signs helped provide clarity throughout the show, especially to establish character names and give emotional context. (Grassroots is providing ASL interpretation for their show on October 27th.)
Accompanying the witches are a series of puppets to portray the occult prophecies, with lines spoken by several cast members from backstage. These puppets made by Soren Budge are intricate and wickedly cool, bringing the foretold (mis)fortunes to life. As always, providing a lovely ambiance and depth to the pre-show and each scene—with some well-placed spooky tunes—is the live band, with Gary Argyle (guitar), Scott Robinson (Drums), Chase Schetselaar (viola), Kira Halterman (bass guitar).
Macbeth is one of my favorite plays to see performed, and GSC is one of my favorite production companies. It is an absolute treat to see the two together. And behind the bold strokes and spurting blood are careful, committed, and intentional character choices that elevate the production. Come and see a classic play full of life–and death–with the Grassroots Shakespeare Company at the Gateway in Salt Lake City, Utah!
Macbeth includes instances of fighting and death, and lots of fake blood. Before the show begins the cast identifies the “splash zone” so that audience members can choose their proximity to the action wisely. (Reminder: The fake blood does wash out with cold water.)
A Review by Front Row Reviewers
Grassroots Shakespeare Company presents Macbeth by William Shakespeare
The Gateway Upper Level 200 South 400 West Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
October 20, 21, 23, 27, 28, 2023. Pre-show 7 PM, show 7:30 PM (ASL interpretation on 27)
Ticket: $15 online, $20 at the door
Tickets: SimpleTix website