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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Our Town
Pittsburgh Public Theater

Also see Ann's review of Marilyn Maye at Cabaret at Theatre Square


The Cast
Thornton Wilder's Our Town. The greatest American play or the world's most boring play, depending on who you talk to. Set in the early 1900s, it's a simple story depicting the residents of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire (population 2,640 before the twins are born), going about their daily lives and progressing, through three acts, through the stages of life. In so many ways, American life has changed in the past 100 years, but the basics are the same: we're born, we grow up, we develop relationships, we cope with life, then we die. What, then, can Our Town teach or show us? Honestly, not much if we just sit and watch. We have to feel what these characters are feeling, be part of what they're going through in their present, in order to be moved by the themes. Unfortunately, the current Pittsburgh Public Theatre production doesn't allow us quite get there.

One only has to have seen (or to have read or heard about) the magical 2009 Off-Broadway production of Our Town, directed by David Cromer, to know that it is possible. There, the audience was made part of the production, by the physical arrangement of the audience and the players, and by a cast that felt truly authentic. Here, it's more presentational, and cold. The set, by director Ted Pappas, is a black floor with a distancing white painted circle outlining the main playing space (made a little larger than usual in this thrust space by a reduction in side seating). As Wilder wanted it, there are few props and the actors mime activities like snapping beans, eating, etc. They are dressed in period costumes, quite nicely done by Gabriel Berry. Kirk Bookman's lighting seems bright and not atmospheric, for an effect I'm not able to explain.

It's a large, but not precedent-setting, cast for the Public: twenty-four actors, many from the local pool, and all having some connection to the Pittsburgh area. The play follows George Gibbs (Patrick Cannon) and Emily Webb (Erin Lindsey Krom) from adolescence (Act One: Daily Life), to teenagers in love (three years later, Act Two: Love and Marriage), to early death and grief (nine years later, Act Three: Death and Eternity). Cannon does an admirable job with a character that is difficult to play, going from awkward kid to widower. Krom is overly anxious and her Emily doesn't seem to change so much. The supporting players are all fine, with two standouts being Marc Epstein as Mr. Webb (I swear he was plucked right out of early-1900s New Hampshire) and Daniel Krell as the dark and troubled Simon Stimson. Tom Atkins as the Stage Manager is too disconnected, each appearance feeling jarring.

Our Town, through October 27 at the O'Reilly Theater for the Pittsburgh Public Theater. For performance and ticket information, visit http://ppt.org/. This is the Public's "Masterpiece Season," and we will see how the selections fit that theme—following Our Town are True West, An Iliad, Candida and Noises Off.


Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater


See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.


-- Ann Miner



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