Through January 13|
OUR TOWN ART of WNY/TheatreLoft
By Augustine Warner
The last scene of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” is set on a windswept hill high above the fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire.
The dead of the town cemetery are looking down on the community and welcoming the newcomers as they have since the 1600s.
It’s set at the beginning of the 20th Century, a time so distant from our own that the arrival of the morning train on time is the start of the day.
While the ART production is filled with diversity, the real (sort of) burg isn’t very, to the point the neighborhood across the tracks is called “Polishtown.”
This is a town slowly, slowly changing as the world changes, cars begin to appear, more kids consider college and the local newspaper reports begin to be about a much wider world.
And, as the stage manager (Verneice Turner) reminds us, perhaps the brightest boy the town ever produced dies in the mud of France in just a few years.
The stage manager is the key element in the play’s structure, serving as the omniscient narrator of the events over the years, detailing the town’s ups and downs and what happens to the central characters.
There are class divisions in Grover’s Corners, like Howie (Shakora Parks), who does the daily milk delivery in Grover’s corners, leading his aging horse and the wagon.
The story revolves around George Gibbs (Russell Holt), daughter of the town doctor, and Emily Webb (Kit Keubler), daughter of the newspaper editor.
Coincidentally, they live next door to each other and go to the same school in the same grade.
This is before hard charging helicopter parents, because George’s parents allow him to get into farming, when he marries Emily.
There is life and death coming and it all falls into place in that old cemetery where the new dead join their predecessors and ancestors linked by the inevitability of death, whether the voluntary death of suicide or the ancient scourge of childbirth, ending dreams and the future.
I’ve never much liked “Our Town.”
It’s a little too pat, telling the story of a long time ago in a community far, far away.
Now, plays about the past are familiar in our time, whether Sophocles or Shakespeare.
But, Wilder’s play is a community locked in aspic.
Grover’s Corners isn’t something we can see on cable TV any night.
It’s a playwright probing his past and his home town.
It’s also a look at a perception of our past, buried in the shaky New England accents of this cast.
This has long been perceived as one of the great American plays, one long used in so many theater schedules and so often on college schedules because this is a large cast.
With a strong cast, particularly the State Manager, it’s a strong play.
This a play with an up and down cast, like the accents.
There are strong performances from Jack Horohoe as Charles Webb, the publisher, and Victor Morales’s Doctor Frank Gibbs and some good work from Turner.
Matthew LaChiusa contributed a truly spare set, mostly marked with quickly moved chairs and tables.
Matthew Refermat’s direction is a little up and down.
Theater seasons are always a mix of plays seen too often and plays seen not enough, with that balance of business and cultural choices.
ART does a different mix than most and may finally have a stage it can settle into, in TheatreLoft.
It’s worth doing “Our Town,” partially because theaters should do these old, once classic plays, while recognizing our sense of what is a classic play often changes.
It’s possible to see both the good points and the bad points on the TheatreLoft stage with “Our Town.”
That’s why the play is worth seeing, perhaps to mark it up on your personal theatrical scorecard and perhaps to see how a different America from a different time is portrayed on stage.
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