Front Row Reviewers

Feb 16, 2024 | Reviews

A Wonderful Tale of Woe with Romeo and Juliet from the Grassroots Shakespeare Company

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

Review by Eliza Een and Alayna Een

Front Row Reviewers joined the Grassroots Shakespeare Company (GSC) on Valentine’s Day for the cast’s first performance in the annual run of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. GSC prides itself on “performing Shakespeare like Shakespeare did,” with limited rehearsals, fluid casting, creative self-costuming, live music and sound effects, and a rowdy crowd of groundlings who are encouraged to cheer and boo. In this familiar tragic tale, love and loss are deeply intertwined and the cast keeps you invested until the last couplet (and Capulet) falls. 

The fair Romeo of the cast is Kira Halterman, who really blossoms in the role of a passionate lover opposite leading lady Juliet (Annika Webb). Annika Webb’s Juliet is reminiscent of a sweet and affectionate schoolgirl, appropriate for her GSC debut. Their monologues and the iconic balcony scene highlight both their innocence and infatuation as they leap over both real and metaphorical barriers and shyly admit their feelings for the first time. The sweetness of that key scene makes the sorrow they gather in each successive scene all the stronger until they both end up in the crypt. The audience must have fallen in love with Halterman and Annika Webb as well, because as each took the unfortunate actions to end their character’s tale, we cried out, asking them to wait just a moment longer.

The beloved Mercutio (Alyx Vaughn, also Prince Escalus) is witty and suave and expertly navigates the play’s evolution to tragedy with her final monologue and curse “a plague on both your houses!” Vaughn and Alyssa Tanner-Vaughn (Tybalt and Friar Lawrence) deliver some of the strongest performances, with the swordfight between Mercutio and Tybalt standing out as one of the most intense and exciting moments of the show. Their smooth and fluid movements felt like a dance across the stage—that is, until death cut in.

Best friend Benvolio (Beth McDonald) is the critical, quirky sidekick who endures Romeo’s mood swings and lovesick monologues with patient eye-rolls. From silly disguises to drunken ponderings, McDonald and Vaughn are the friends Halterman’s Romeo needs to help lighten every situation. Small acts of heroism are a hallmark of friendship, and their interjections on each other’s behalf and jokes at each other’s expense play into the comedic and ultimately tragic camaraderie of the trio. 

Jack Bell (also Montague) is a delightful surprise as Nurse, playing a scruffy and skeptical companion to Annika Webb’s sweet Juliet. Bell’s bespectacled and comic Nurse is performed with great contrast to his unruffled Montague. Juliet’s marriage-obsessed parents are played by the formidable Kat Webb (Capulet) and Katherine Moulton (Lady Capulet). The two fall into traditional roles of husband and wife, with Kat Webb’s commanding presence and Moulton’s 1950s-esque misguided, but well-meaning mothering. Would-be lover Count Paris is played with a country-western flair by Courtney Christensen, and if Romeo and Juliet had a “fool,” it would be the aloof Paris. One of the most avoidable tragedies in my opinion is Paris’ death, and as Christensen persisted in their final duel with Halterman, I was struck again by the desire to cry out and stop the fight as Romeo tries to do. 

Behind the many misguided characters is one friar with a well-meaning plan, and Tanner-Vaughn’s secondary role as Friar Lawrence is a triumph. She is the only consistent voice of reason in the play, and her inflections and emphasis are poignant and draw out so much meaning from the text. I may or may not be obsessed with her robe and headscarf, which veered more gospel choir than monk. Alyx Vaughn as Prince Escalus delivers both the first and final words of this tale of woe, bringing the compelling story full-circle with tragic finality. 

Every GSC show begins with a musical pre-show where members of the cast and the live band warm up the audience with song and dance. The live music and sound effects from Gary Argyle (guitar), Scott Robinson (drums), and Chase Schetselaar (viola) add depth and bring out emotional scenes with high contrast throughout the show. The most memorable being a few literally gut-wrenching sounds that really drove the point home, and the final, haunting heartbeats of each ill-fated character. 

All told, this performance of Romeo and Juliet is to die for (as more than half the cast agrees) so make your way to the GSC performances in American Fork (February 16-17th) or at The Gateway in Salt Lake City (February 23-24th)!

Grassroots Shakespeare Company Presents Romeo and Juliet
96 North 350 West Street American Fork, Utah 84003 Shows on 2/14, 16, 17
“The Box” at the Gateway Mall 400 West 200 South Salt Lake City, Utah 84101; Shows on 2/23-24
Feb 14, 16, 17, 23-24, 2024, preshow at 7 PM, start time 7:30 PM. 
Tickets: $15 online, $20 at the door
Grassroots Website
Facebook event Romeo and Juliet

Front Row Reviewers

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