Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Our Town: Enduring American Classic Lovingly Revived
Also see Bob's reviews of The High Water Mark
There is only a bare minimum of scenery (two tables, several chairs and two stepladders in the first act to which this production adds two trellises) and the physical actions of the actors are mimed without props. The setting is Grover's Corners, a fictional small town in southern New Hampshire, and the play spans the years from 1901 to 1913. It is a three act play, appropriately performed with two intermissions.
The first act is titled "The Daily Life" and spans the course of a day in May, 1901. Principally, it centers about two families, the Gibbs' and the Webbs, each with two children. Dr. Frank Gibbs is the always-on-call town doctor. Charles Webb is the publisher and editor of the town newspaper. George Gibbs and Emily Webb, the older children, attend high school together. When we first see them, Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb are preparing breakfast and exhorting their children to get ready for school. It is a typical and uneventful day. However, as we observe these families and several other townsfolk throughout this day, we get a strong sense of their lives and community.
The second act is titled "Love and Marriage." Three years have passed, and it is now the day that Emily Webb and George Gibbs are getting married. At one point at the Stage Manager's request, Emily and George re-enact for us a scene from the day when they knew that they were in love and would marry.
The third act titled "Death and Eternity" is set on a day nine years after the wedding. Although it contains metaphysical elements which may be troubling to some, more importantly, it looks unflinchingly at aspects of day to day existence which is heartbreaking in its keenly observed truth.
Philip Goodwin gives a particularly individual interpretation of the Stage Manager. He employs a strong New England accent and a brisk, no nonsense manner. Effectively, Goodwin is our local guide, not so much a stage manager as a wise and chiseled Grover's Corners fixture.
Each of the performances is both naturalistic and poetic, as well as fully and appropriately detailed. Take note of the extraordinarily animating detail that Allison Daugherty (Mrs. Webb) and Marion Adler (Mrs. Gibbs) bring to their roles. I was deeply moved by the awe and delight that Rebecca Gray Davis brings to her recitation of the extraordinarily address on a letter that was delivered by the post office.
Director Joseph Discher wisely has not attempted to impose any radically innovative directorial concept on Our Town. What he has done is to expertly cast his ensemble and orchestrate its performance to bring out the music in Wilder's words. The cast is like a perfectly tuned orchestra blending the lives and thoughts of the people of Grover's Corners into a rapturous symphony. The result is a lovely, poetic production. To quote from the poetry of Walt Whitman, experiencing Our Town at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, "I Hear America Singing".
Our Town continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday 7:30 PM/ Thursday, Friday and Saturday 8 PM/ Matinees: Saturday and Sunday 2 PM) through November 17, 2013, at the at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue at Lancaster Road, Madison, New Jersey 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600; online: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
Our Town by Thornton Wilder; directed by Joseph Discher