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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Our Town

Our Town
Nickolas Vaughan and Alyssa Gagarin
Just about everyone reads or sees Thornton Wilder's 1938 play Our Town in high school and thinks of it as a sweet, nostalgic look back at small-time life in the beginning of the 20th century. That's a shame. Wilder's self-contained New England town stands in for the entire human community—as director Stephen Rayne stresses in his gentle production now at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC—and many of its life lessons only make full sense as the viewer gains age and experience.

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.

Ford's Theatre
Our Town
January 25th - February 24th
By Thornton Wilder
Stage Manager: Portia
Doc Gibbs: James Konicek
Mrs. Gibbs: Jenn Walker
Mrs. Webb: Kimberly Schraf
Joe Crowell Jr.: Christopher Wilson
Howie Newsome: Kevin McAllister
George Gibbs: Nickolas Vaughan
Rebecca Gibbs: Brynn Tucker
Wally Webb: Joey Ibanez
Emily Webb: Alyssa Gagarin
Professor Willard: John Lescault
Mr. Webb: Craig Wallace
Mrs. Fairchild: Susan Lynskey
Mr. Carter: Jon Hudson Odom
Simon Stimson: Tom Story
Mrs. Soames: Kellee Knighten Hough
Constable Warren: Frederick Strother
Si Crowell: Christopher Wilson
Joe Stoddard: John Lescault
Sam Craig: Tony Nam
People of the Town: Michael Bunce, Erin Driscoll, Kellee Knighten Hough, Joey Ibanez, Susan Lynskey, Kevin McAllister, Tony Nam, Jon Hudson Odom
Directed by Stephen Rayne
511 Tenth St., N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-347-4833 or www.fordstheatre.org


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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