Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
While Wilder himself called for an unadorned stage with chairs and ladders standing in for scenery, Rayne and the designers go a step farther in erasing all traces of the everyday. Scenic designer Tony Cisek has placed a large whitewashed platform on the Ford's stage, jutting forward into the auditorium, and Rayne keeps all the actors onstage throughout the play; when not in a scene, they sit on whitewashed wooden chairs at the back of the platform. Similarly, Kate Turner-Walker has designed simple, flowing costumes without reference to any specific place or time period.
Rayne's cosmic look at the people of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, brings together a multiracial cast to convey the universality of humanity, overseen by an omniscient Stage Manager (Portia). It makes no difference as Emily Webb (grave and beautiful Alyssa Gagarin) and next-door neighbor George Gibbs (callow Nickolas Vaughan) grow up together, fall in love, and experience loss.
Portia is a skillful guide to the play, setting up scenes and stepping in and out of the action while maintaining a light touch. James Konicek and Craig Wallace give weighty performances as George's and Emily's fathers, and Kimberly Schraf creates a warm rapport with Gagarin as Emily's mother. On the other hand, Tom Story is distractingly broad as the malcontent church choir director Simon Stimson.
One of Rayne's conceits is that the actors provide all sound effects. Whether it's the neighing of a horse, the slurping of an ice cream soda through a straw, or the voices of the dead rushing and overlapping like the wind, it's a fascinating way to add atmosphere.