Some how I put off seeing Our Town for 72 years and then suddenly experienced two compelling performances in a matter of months! (Here’s my response to my previous encounter at The Lake Country Players). But today, I want to share my thoughts about Our Town at APT!
So once again, I find myself in Grover’s Corners, NH, but this time seated outdoors amongst towering trees, ten thousand crickets, a number of agile bats, and an audience of eleven hundred other theatergoers who are about to become my best friends and neighbors. Partly by our close proximity sheltering from a brief bit of rain and then by Wilder’s classic take on small town rural America!
And as we settle into our seats, we see that APT has taken Wilder’s stage directions to heart and we have the two dining table sets and two ladders that define the two households that share the timeline of the story. Perfectly suited to the rustic stage at the Hill Theater. And the cast took to heart the directions to mime most of the activities…perfectly…from stirring pots in the kitchen, to pumping water, to delivering milk, and tossing the morning paper on the porch (accompanied by a very satisfying and resounding slap sound effect)!
In act one of course we meet Grover’s Corners through a pair of presentations to the audience from guest speakers on stage, the description of the town’s geography by the stage manager, and then the commencement of the typical day…and we meet the residents as they play out their familial interactions and daily activities. And as we watch and eavesdrop, we realize that every day life in an idyllic community isn’t always quite so idyllic. A far more realistic portrayal than sit coms of the 1950s and 1960s, for certain.
But we do meet the two nuclear families central to the story. The actors here exemplify their characters to a T! The Gibbs family, James Ridge is Dr. Gibbs, Teri Brown is Mrs. Gibbs, and their two growing, active, and curious children, Ronald Roman-Melendez as George and Phoebe Werner as Rebecca. And across the stage in Spring Green but across Town in Grover’s Corners, we learn to love the Webb family, newspaper editor Mr. Webb played by Jefferson A Russell, Mrs. Webb played by Tracy Michelle Arnold, and the aware Webb children, Samanatha Newcomb as Emily, and Susanna Van Hallgren as Wally. A perfect cast that presents the characters and personalities of their roles just as you’d expect for turn of the (20th) century rural America. And the young people to pay close attention to are George and Emily of course, as they age and mature, and discover how deep feelings can really really reside.
And of course scene two is where the pinnacle of the action in Grover’s Corners is told. As Emily calls out George for an unlike George change in attitude and action…and George comes to the realization of what he really wants out of his life and the best way to achieve it…and of course his love for Emily. Wedding bells ensue!
And then on to the third and final act which gives us Wilder’s expressed theme, The play is about Mortality. And here brings to fruition the Emily she grew into in the previous two scenes…an observant, mature, and feeling human being unlike anyone and everyone else in the play. Samantha Newcomb truly presents that feeling human being and is the star of this show!
An aside and then a quibble: For me the stage manager is the key ingredient for a successful Our Town. The stage manager needs to be flexible since the role changes throughout the play and it requires a certain amount of gravitas. Over the years, I have loved Sarah Day in any number of plays, but I don’t think she quite had the feel for the stage manager the evening I attended the play. And the quibble: I sat dead center although higher up in the seating bowl…but Sarah played too much to stage left, particularly during the intro even for me sitting in the center.
Our Town played as the classic play that it has become. Tim Ocel did a marvelous job directing given the sparse sets and props that Wilder allows if you are to stay true to his vision while also expressing your own. And the 1901 costuming provided by costume designer Scott A Rott sets the mood for the period as well…wonderful.
As always: Extra credit reading: The 2023 Season Playbill
And if you want to catch Our Town: click here for more info and tickets!!
all photos are courtesy of American Players Theatre