Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Set in the early 1900s, Our Town focuses on two next door neighbors in a small town, the Gibbs family and the Webb family. Dr. Gibbs (Benjamin Brown) is satisfied treating the residents of Grovers Corners, but Mrs. Gibbs (Teri Lamm) dreams of a trip to Europe. They have a daughter Rebecca (Lily Lexer) and a son George (Josh Olumide), who dreams about baseball and the girl next door. That girl next door is Emily Webb (Claire Inie-Richards), big sister to Wally (Caleb Ward) and daughter of Mr. Webb (Graham Smith) and Mrs. Webb (Melanye Finister). The play focuses on a few days in the lives and deaths of the Gibbs and Webbs, drawing some truly profound insights from the mundane realities of everyday life.
An omniscient narrator known simply as the Stage Manager guides the audience through the play's three segments (performed here in two acts): daily life, love and marriage, and death. The Stage Manager sets the tone and David M. Lutken's gentle manner and reserved presence is perfect. Brown also finds the right balance between warmth and stoicism to render a particularly compelling Dr. Gibbs. Lamm and Finister bring an intriguing depth and easy humor to their roles as the resident matriarchs. But Olumide seems a bit uncomfortable as young George Gibbs and his scenes with Inie-Richards slow the pace of the production. Inie-Richards gives a competent performance, but I would have liked to see something more. Eliana Abike Fabiyi performs well in the modest roles of Fiddler and Mrs. Newsome, but I would have loved to see her cast as Emily instead. Smith is charming, but he comes off as too old to play Mr. Webb.
As per Wilder's explicit instructions, Our Town is performed with minimal sets and props, so Dennis Parichy's remarkable lighting designs convey many of the changes in time and place on stage. Marla J. Jurglanis' period costumes have a lovely authentic feel and every member of the large ensemble is costumed expertly. Many of the ensemble members are part of a band which plays before the curtain rises, between acts, and briefly at the end of the show. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and found the band to be a pleasant surprise even though it does not mesh well with the rest of the play. Adams' addition of a radio show style sound effects table is more of a distraction, largely because the actors' pantomime is not tightly synched with the effects.
Our Town remains a potent work of art. Adams wisely does not make any attempt to modernize the production, but the play's powerful message about getting bogged down in the mundane of everyday life is more salient than ever. If Emily cannot believe how little attention people paid to one another in 1938, just imagine what she would think of us, constantly bent over our cell phones and computers today.
Our Town, through August 25, 2019, at People's Light, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets call 610-644-3500 or visit peopleslight.org.