Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Our Town -- Long Wharf

Rey Lucas and Jenny Leona. Photo: T.Charles Erickson
Wilder’s Classic Becomes Our Town with Local, Alumni Cast Members
By Lauren Yarger
Long Wharf Theatre kicks off its 50th anniversary season appropriately with a look at community and the past via a production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Our Town.

Every cast member in the production has previously appeared in a Long Wharf Theatre production and the townspeople of Grovers Corner, NH are members of the greater New Haven community.

Stage Manager Myra Lucretia Taylor guides us back to 1901 Grovers Corners. Set Designer Eugene Lee’s chalk drawings on a blackboard backdrop depict the buildings of the small town. Life here is so simple that it can be depicted with just the help of some tables and chairs. The day-to-day activities, like preparing meals, are pantomimed.

The Webbs and the Gibbs go about their business interacting with other townspeople. Mrs. Gibbs (Linda Powell) and Mrs. Webb (Christina Rouner) prepare endless meals for their families. Mr. Webb (Leon Addison Brown) edits the town’s newspaper. Mr. Gibbs (Don Sparks) is the doctor. Over the years (time passes to 1913, aided by musical composition by Sound Designer John Gromada), teenagers Emily Webb (Jenny Leona) and George Gibbs (Rey Lucas) find love, marriage and their own place as a family in the community.

When Emily’s time on earth comes to an end, she has a chance to revisit one day in her life and discovers that she – and all of us – never really took time to appreciate life or each other while she was here.

Wilder’s play is a reflection on what really is important in life amidst the common concerns it presents:
  • How do others see us?
  • What is our purpose?
  • How can we be happy?
  • Will we find love?
  • What happens to us after we die?

“It goes so fast and we don’t have time to look at one another,” Emily reflects.

Our Town has received countless productions since the three-act play premiered in 1938. No doubt you have seen it, have been in it or have gone to see a family member or friend in it. So why see it again? Because the truths explored in the questions above still are relevant today.

Gordon Edelstein brings community to the center with the use of local residents (the church choir, under the musical direction of Jonathan Berryman) and riotously directed by drunk choir master and church organist Simon Stimson (Robert Dorfman) is really good. Gossipy choir member Mrs. Soames also gets a nice comedic turn by Ann McDonaugh.

Giving the stage manager a more prominent treatment detracts from the feel of the production, however, as she often appears to interrupt and lecture, rather than walk with us through the town. The best productions of Our Town are those where I don’t even remember that there is a “narrator.” Some of the pantomiming technique could use some polish too, as thoughts stray to “what is she doing?’ or “I thought that would be heavier” creep in.

Also triggering question are Emily Rebholz’s costumes, some of which seem modern, perhaps to make the point about the themes being contemporary. But the stage manager keeps filling us in on what year we’re in in the early 20th century…

Providing a special treat opening night was the Long Wharf premiere of its own Director of Marketing Steven Scarpa as the Man in the Graveyard. And added sense of community occurs at the second intermission after George and Emily’s wedding where members of the audience visit on stage as if attending the reception.

Our Town runs through Nov. 2 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets: $25-$75. 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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