OUR TOWN: IN PRAISE OF SIMPLE THINGS

9 Oct

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Alley Theatre, through Nov. 1 

By HOLLY BERETTO 

Our Town is the first grown-up play I recall paying attention to. It’s also responsible for my first newspaper interview – with Richard Kneeland, who played the Stage Manager in Trinity Repertory Company’s 1986 production. I went to college in the next town over from Peterborough, New Hampshire, which inspired Wilder’s Grover’s Corners setting.  So, there’s always a stirring of connection for me with this play.

“Stirring” aptly describes the Alley’s production. Our Town, at its heart, is a play about the simple things in life, and the need to not only appreciate them but to live them and love them every day that we’re given. It’s a message easily lapsed into cliché. The Alley’s production doesn’t, delivering this look at Americana through the prism of a small New Hampshire town at the turn of the 20th century with wit, keen observation and great heart.

Guiding us through the evening is the Stage Manager, played brilliantly by James Black. He offers everything from a history of Grover’s Corners to commentary on what will become of its residents, moving us seamlessly along through a day in our town, the courtship and marriage of sweethearts George and Emily, and eventually, death and acceptance. His delivery is by turns wry and gentle, but always sharply moving.

As Emily Webb, Elizabeth Bunch delivers her best in Act Three, the very point where, in lesser hands, Our Town can veer from cliché to downright catastrophe. Her acceptance of Emily’s fate is moving, layered and possibly the best performance I’ve seen from her. Jay Sullivan, as her sweetheart George Gibbs, is steady, making a believable transition from town baseball star to husband and farmer. Josie de Guzman as Mrs. Gibbs and Charlotte Booker as Mrs. Webb offer perfect performances of stalwart Yankee women. Jeffrey Bean’s Doc Gibbs conveys deep understanding and assurance.  John Tyson delivers an achingly poignant and compassionate portrayal as the outcast choir master Simon Stimson. And Emily Neves provides great wonder in her terrific scene, ending Act One.

Director Gregory Boyd deftly brings out the best in his cast, even if seeing some of them in street clothes and not Alejo Vietti’s period costumes isn’t well explained in either the staging or the program notes. Beverly Emmons’ lighting design enhances the deliberately bare set, providing context to the scenes and evoking New England.

Our Town shows us who we are – not always for the better. It shows us our selfishness and self-absorption, even as it reflects our steely resolve. It doesn’t end on a high note – but I’ve always believed, when we look at it hard enough, we find a happy ending.

Photo by  Jann Whaley: Elizabeth Bunch and Jay Sullivan in the Alley’s Our Town.

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One Response to “OUR TOWN: IN PRAISE OF SIMPLE THINGS”

  1. Neil Ellis Orts October 10, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    I was introduced to Our Town when I was a junior in High School. I believe it is one of the reasons I’m a writer today. Some people look at it’s surface and see something mundane, but it has always connected for me. Wilder was a master of that subtle ache that many of us feel when we feel time slipping past us. Thanks for the reminder.

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