Set in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, during the early years of the twentieth century, Our Town is about daily life, death, and what may occur beyond. Wilder once wrote that this play "is not offered as a picture of life in a New Hampshire village; or as a speculation of life after death ... It is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life." As you watch, draw your own conclusions.
Boyd and designer Jeff Cowie open up the entire performance space – which is cavernous. It's a perfect spot for townspeople to gather. Holbrook opens the play by strolling in from the rear, a black wall behind him. The actor is folksy, informal, warm and speaks as if the audience before him is comprised of fellow Grover's Corners residents. As subsequent acts commence, villagers congregate.
This is a play about families. George Gibbs (Donovan Patton), whose father is a physician (Ross Bickell), hopes to wed Emily Webb (Ginna Carter), daughter of Mrs. Webb (Annalee Jeffries) and Editor Webb (Frank Converse). George and Emily are friends in school, sip sodas together, fall in love and marry. So far, so promising. Emily, though, dies while in childbirth. During the third act, she meets others who have passed on, and expresses the wish to visit the world of the living. Now, Our Town moves from a realistic to more abstract mode. The development indicates the depth of Wilder's writing and intent. Costumer Alejo Vietti outfits living town citizens all in black and each carries a fully extended black umbrella.
Early on, theatergoers meet various town characters as the small New Hampshire village awakens. Wilder shows insight as he explores, with some detail, the Gibbs and Webb families. Emily, in particular, is the picture of hope and, finally, the image of pain.
Boyd locates some humor within Wilder's lines. Holbrook, disciplined and appealing, capitalizes upon those moments. His performance is easy, pleasing, and convincing. As Mrs. Gibbs, Annalee Jeffries (an excellent performer many times featured at Hartford Stage), oftentimes mimes household chores. Donovan Patton, wondering whether he should farm or play baseball, does well to evidence his conflicting impulses.
When asked, upon a few occasions, to sing, the cast, as a unit, demonstrates fine vocal ability. Again, this lends variety to the show. Ultimately, Our Town is everyone's town. During the course of the fourteen years the play traverses, Wilder speaks of splendid moments within life – and of personal loss. Some who observe may find themselves vicariously participating. Others, more resistant, will probably be drawn in through the script or impressive production elements. It is an encompassing, large cast production.
Our Town continues at Hartford Stage through October 7th. For ticket and schedule information, visit www.hartfordstage.org or call (860) 527-5151.
- Fred Sokol