It seems incredible that we are celebrating the 85th Anniversary of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town this year. And if you care to join in the celebration, I suggest you attend the Lake Country Players presentation (ticket info is here). Our Town plays directly to the strengths of the Lake Country Players…who work in what I consider a jewel box theater and they always emphasize the text and the characters in their presentations…while working with minimal props and sets. Exactly the prescription that Wilder sets out for his play.
But that minimal approach doesn’t mean that LCP has skimped in casting what is a significantly large cast for a regional theater group. Just the opposite, they have gathered a full cast of amazing actors who clearly inhabit their roles and we are never in doubt about who they are or what they mean to our story. An incredible group!
And once again, LCP has helped us identify and identify with the characters via costuming that clearly places us in the rural United States just after the turn of the 20th Century. How Sarah Jo Martens pulled that off while also starring as Emily is just phenomenal. And kudos also go to producer Nancy Hurd who also took on the challenging task of hair design…everyone had the perfect coif for circa 1901!
And when you have a old chestnut of a play like Our Town, sometimes directors or theater groups like to play around a bit. Sometimes modernizing the text or moving the era that it was originally written for. To LCP’s credit they did neither and the play and this presentation are all the better for it…because yes…just as written this plays into the ensemble’s strengths! So sure, some of the language is dated and some of the concepts aren’t necessarily contemporary…but all of the pathos and humanity clearly comes to the fore…and none of the humor got lost.
On the other hand, LCP did push the envelope a bit with some of their casting. As director Sandra Renick states in the Director’s Note:
We have brought together a remarkably gifted cast, showcasing a beautiful tapestry of backgrounds that encompass diverse body types, ethnicities, abilities, and ages. This deliberate choice underscores our shared bond as individuals…
And LCP and Renick took another bold leap into exploring mental health and bullying and gossip in a small community in the character of choir director, Simon Stimson. Not a surprising exploration given their previous explorations in The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time. Again from Renick’s Director’s Note:
Take notice of the subtle murmurs of gossip surrounding Simon, as thy unveil the concealed elements that potentially contributed to his struggles with alcoholism, isolation, and ultimately, his tragic choice.
And LCP’s Simon Stimson, Talen Marshall, brings the anguish and angst and isolation to the stage very effectively. We don’t quite understand at first but after Act Three, we are in full understanding.
Of course, the focal character in Our Town is Emily Webb, immaculately played by Sarah Jo Martens. From the exuberance of youth into her budding romance with George Gibbs and on to their inevitable marriage, Martens exhibits each state just so perfectly. And Brian Maxwell is George Gibbs here. It takes him a bit to see the romance in Emily’s eyes but when he does he doesn’t quite understand her initial reticence when he starts to make his move. Maxell gives us the required naivity and boyish wonder…and it broke my heart when he had to forgo baseball…which most of us of a certain coming of age in the 20th Century had to do.
Also solid in their roles, are the respective parents, Paula Nordwig as Mrs. Gibbs, Mack Bates as Dr. Gibbs, Dave Somerscales as Mr. Webb, and Angelique Tober as Mrs. Webb. Strict at times, playful at others, then doting, and everlastingly proud…the perfect parents!
And though the trajectory story throughout the play is Emily’s…this presentation of the play wouldn’t have been the joy that it is, without Dick Natrop as the stage manager. He’s just the natural for this role…easily moving about the stage…ever present…ever aware. He tells us the back stories while knowing the future and never being uncomfortable with his role or his knowledge. And he is just as aware of our presence as we are of his…Natrop brings Wilder’s convention in breaking down the fourth wall to a very natural reality. For me this was the performance of note!
Editor’s note 7/11/2023. One thought that I forgot to include in the original response. Given the intimate nature of the theater space, with the stage manager talking directly to us, although we are creatures of our own time and space, we are truly made to feel a part of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, and it becomes, OUR TOWN too.
Our Town continues for one more weekend…July 13th through July 16h 2023. Again ticket info here!