Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Girl Friday Productions Our Town
Girl Friday Productions answers those questions throughout their stellar production of Our Town. By digging deep into the play's heart, the company takes Thorton Wilder's look at American life at the turn of the 20th century and reminds us all why the playwright won a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.
Working forward and backwards in time during a dozen-year span at the beginning of the 20th century, Our Town lives off the rhythms and relationships of small town life, in this case Grover's Corners, a small New Hampshire village.
We meet the men, women and children of the area, watch them fall in love, have fights, get drunk and gossip. And we watch them pass on as well. Wilder's play is at one level absolutely mundane nothing particularly special happens during the show but on another quite epic, as we watch as the characters deal with the infinity of what happens after they die.
It's an easy play to make overly sentimental or just plan dull, but director Craig Johnson and the talented cast overcome these common troubles.
The key way this production works and certainly the most daring step taken is the removal of the familiar stage manager character. In his place, the ensemble shares his lines that detail the town's background and the histories of the varied characters. In many ways, this makes the stories that unfold much more about "our town." (And as anyone who has ever lived in a small town can tell you everyone does know everyone else's business.)
Though at its core an ensemble piece, Our Town does have a number of standout performances. Chief among them are Jenny Hollingsworth and Ian Miller as Emily Webb and George Gibbs, the two young lovers who serve as the closest thing to main characters in the play. We see them at different stages of their relationship awkward teenagers, happy newlyweds and in the time after one of them dies and feel the joy and loss as they go along. The two actors embrace their characters and understand that what they need to be, above all else, is real and honest.
Those traits can be seen throughout the cast, even when they are working with characters that may be less well-rounded (the town drunk and the town busybody, for example). Even these characters breathe with the same depth as the other, better-defined ones.
In the end, Our Town is not just about the rhythms of small-town life, but the value of living and the need to hold on to and cherish the brief years we have on the earth. In a world of so many distractions, that's a valuable lesson to take home from a night at the theater.
Our Town runs through July 28, 2007 at Minneapolis Theatre Garage, Minneapolis. For more information and tickets, call (612) 729-1071 or visit www.girlfridayproductions.org.
Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Twin Cities area