Lisa Baldwin in in Our Town.
By Thornton Wilder
Directed by Sharon Sommermeyer
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents are copyright © 2015 Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
If there is one play that is the triumph of American theater, the quintessential slice of American life, it is Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Winning the lauded Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938, the play has enjoyed enduring success and frequent revivals for over 75 years. Indeed, Edward Albee, playwright of the arguably equally renowned Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, once famously called Our Town “the greatest American play ever written.” Les Waters, current Artistic Director of the storied Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, expressed similar sentiments when directing the play just last season. It is undeniably a magnificent play, but that magnificence, when coupled with the staleness due to the numerous productions over the years, can prove to make the production of this play a herculean task for any company.
For those in the dark, Our Town is structured in the now antiquated three-act format. Each act deals with a different theme and is set at a different time, but all take place in the fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Entitled “Daily Life,” Act One is just what it seems. The Stage Manager (Allen Schuler) metatheatrically introduces the audience to the setting and the characters, and what a rich tapestry Grover’s Corners proves to be. Wilder economically but nonetheless vividly paints a stunning portrait of a typical day in the town, mentioning offhand remarks regarding the town’s history and statistics and introducing the audience to several colorful characters. The majority of the story, however, chronicles the lives of two families in Grover’s Corners: The Gibbs’s and the Webb’s.
The audience comes to know the patriarchs first, Dr. Gibbs (Michael McCollum) and Editor Webb (Zac Taylor). Next are their wives, Mrs. Gibbs (Teresa Wentzel) and Mrs. Webb (Lisa Baldwin). Finally, the children, and central figures of the drama, George Gibbs (Spencer Korcz) and Emily Webb (Julia Spurrier) are introduced. While Act One is about showing the audience the daily happenings of the Gibbs, the Webbs, and the rest of the citizens of Grover’s Corners, Act Two (Love and Marriage), again self-explanatorily, narrows the focus, demonstrating perhaps why this play is so popular among high school theater groups. Act Three (Death and Dying), arguably the most famous part of a famous play, bookends things thematically and provides the audience with some powerful sentiments to mull over.
The third act of Our Town is make-or-break for any production, and this reviewer is happy to report that this is where Little Colonel shines. Little Colonel Playhouse wisely chose to produce the version revived on Broadway in 2003 that starred Paul Newman, which steers clear of the maudlin nature common in earlier iterations. Act Three rests almost entirely on the shoulders of the production’s Emily, and Julia Spurrier rises to the challenge with poise and an understanding of the text that is beyond her years. The Stage Manager has the unenviable task of supporting the other two acts and some of the third with clear intention and lots of lines, but Allen Schuler’s turn in the role is both engaging and gregarious. Zac Taylor also makes a strong impression as Editor Webb. The scene between him and Emily, where they stare at the moon together, is one of the most beautiful in the show, and the actors play it well, nicely showcasing the importance of the characters’ relationship. In fact, each actor turns in at least one funny or heartfelt moment, which is a rarity, especially with a cast of this size.
Opening night jitters perhaps accounted for some line flubs throughout the evening. The sound effects were also distracting at times, but one is reminded that the elegance in Wilder’s script is its simplicity, making it malleable to a company’s strengths and forgiving of its weaknesses. Thornton Wilder himself often criticized productions of his play for oversentimentality and insincerity. Sincerity is the one common trait found throughout this production. This is community theater in the best possible sense: people coming together for no other reason than for the love of the stage. It is this success that is most important, making a play that is perhaps a little stale, fresh again, truly “ours.” Thornton Wilder would be proud.
April 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, @8:00pm
April 19 and 26 @ 2:30pm
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, Kentucky
[box_light]Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.[/box_light]