Our Town begins in May 1901 in tiny Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. People in the town are introduced, such as: Howie Newsome, the milkman (JoJo Gonzalez); Dr. Gibbs (Don Sparks); Mr. Webb, the editor and publisher (Leon Addison Brown); Emily Webb (Jenny Leona); and George Gibbs (Rey Lucas). The proceedings receive expressive narration from the Stage Manager, in this case actor Myra Lucretia Taylor. The first act moves from breakfast through the rest of the day. It includes at evening with hymns sung by a local choir, led by Simon Stimson (Robert Dorfman); that group is stationed on a landing behind the house seats.
The second act, three years later, focuses on the imminent wedding between George and Emily. Midway through, a flashback brings us to the day when George, just elected high school class president, and Emily, treasurer and secretary, have a conversationsuch a cute talk. She speaks of his popularity and finally says, "All I want is someone to love me."
The atmosphere takes on darker tones during the concluding portion of the play which occurs some nine years later, in or about a graveyard. Wilder has written, in prose, his "story of the play," which appears in an old acting edition script for Our Town. He states, "In the third act we are led to the cemetery on the hill, where many of the townspeople we have come to know so well are patiently and smilingly awaiting not 'judgment' but greater understanding. Into their midst is led the bride, a little timid at first, a little wishful to go back to life, to live again, with her memories. But she is shown how impossible, how futile it is to return."
This play is about passage of time, intimate and not-so-close relationships, the value of each moment of life, friendship, love, and death. Produced a multitude of times on many different levels, it honors the phrase: American classic. At various moments, it is beautifully comedic or richly meaningful, or unbearably touching. Our Town is very familiar to me, as I have seen and written of several professional productions and have personally directed a couple of college productions. The Long Wharf presentation is affecting, lively, and imaginative. Our Town can slow every so often but that is rarely the case during the current depiction.
Edelstein elects to outfit everyone in current everyday wardrobe and costumer Emily Rebholz actualizes that, even as the director honors the original time periodearly twentieth century. The stage (design by Eugene Lee) is mostly bare. A rear wall is black with what appear to be children's white chalk depictions of houses posted upon it. Tables and chairs come forward when needed. During the final scene, Edelstein places visible large photographs of various pivotal Long Wharf individuals, no longer with us, on chairs. These include Edgar Rosenblum, former Executive Director, and Joyce Ebert, the actress who often performed there. Again, this is a generous, smart gesture; all credit to Edelstein. These design selections all work well.
The production is wisely cast, as well. Myra Lucretia Taylor is informal yet strong and clear as the Stage Manager. Rey Lucas brings a George Gibbs who is a deep-feeling young man. Jenny Leona's Emily Webb is most emotional and moving. The actress also shows wide range as she swiftly shifts moods evolving from girlhood, really, through her wedding day. The sequence as she, after having died during childbirth, attempts to return to Grover's Corners is precious, very dear.
In all, Our Town demonstrates a fine symmetry and it is enacted with warmth and sensitivity at Long Wharf.
Our Town continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through November 2nd, 2014. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.
- Fred Sokol