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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Our Town: Enduring American Classic Lovingly Revived

Also see Bob's reviews of The High Water Mark


Philip Goodwin
Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning Our Town is the quintessential and most timeless American play. Even as our values have changed over the 75 years that have passed since it was written, there remains a bedrock foundation of independence and values upon which America was built—the primacy of the family unit (even as the definition of family has altered), individual freedom, caring for members of one's community, duty to country, and the determination to survive and carve out a fruitful life no matter how difficult the landscape—which is brilliantly captured in this play. No matter what your politics and, especially if these seem like empty words to you, I strongly recommend that you see Our Town because it has the ability to make manifest the potency of the values and spirit on which the America which so many of us love was built.

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

Cast
Mrs. Gibbs…………………………..Marion Adler
Prof. Willard/Man Among Dead…..Glenn Beatty
Howie Newsome…………………….Jake Berger
Dr. Gibbs…………………………Malachy Cleary
George Gibbs…………………..Jordan Coughtry
Mrs. Webb……………………..Allison Daugherty
Simon Stimson……………………...Mark H. Dold
Constable Warren……………..Terence Gleeson
Mrs. Soames………………………...Eileen Glenn
Joe Crowell/ Si Crowell…………….Jeff Gonzalez
Stage Manager…………………….Philip Goodwin
Rebecca Gibbs………………..Rebecca Gray Davis
Joe Stoddard………………………..Joseph Hamel
Mr. Carter……………………..Edward McEneaney
Wally Webb……………………….Isaac Allen Miller
Mr. Webb…………………….James Michael Reilly
Emily Webb……………………………..Nisi Sturgis
Sam Craig………………………….Justin R. Waldo
Woman Among Dead………...Jean Burton Walker


Photo: Gerry Goodstein


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- Bob Rendell



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