Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in the fictional town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, in the early 1900s, Our Town is a simple but effective drama that focuses on two families. Wilder's plot pinpoints specific days in the lives of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, next door neighbors we see deal with the joy and pain of love, marriage and death.
Under Michael Kary's clean, expert and unfussy direction, the messages of the story rang through while his work with the large GCU cast created superb portrayals. Kary's direction was extremely smart and didn't over sentimentalize the characters or events, something that is necessary to keep the balance and intent of Wilder's prose intact and meaningful.
While GCU used a large cast for this production, and there are numerous characters in the piece, the play really hinges on just a few characters. Hayden Domenico and Sarah Schalick created realistic and endearing portrayals of George and Emily, young adults who face the highs and lows of life over a short period of time. Domenico was adept at demonstrating the growing love George has for Emily and his steady, clear and almost silent performance in the third act perfectly demonstrated the emotional impact of loss. Schalick was luminous as the unsure Emily, unpredictable at first but growing in strength and understanding of the impact of the events of life. Schalick was simply heartbreaking in the third act when her character faces a major crossroad and is given the chance to look back at her life.
The parents of this duo were played by Joshua Lucas, Devaune Bohall, James Coblentz, and Cameron Cluff. All four delivered nuanced performances, but it is the two mothers who get the most to do and Bohall and Coblentz achieved beautiful, moving and inspiring portrayals that were even appropriately comical at times. Bohall's simple and clear delivery of her dialogue in the third act and her interaction with Schalick projected a stunning moment that showed how painful memories can be. The entire show is narrated by a Stage Manager, who also interacts with the characters and plays a few small parts. In this role, Brenna Warren had an assured delivery of her lines that formed a solid relationship not only to the characters and the actions of the play but also with the audience.
Wilder specifically states that the play should not feature any major set pieces and only use a few small elements such as a couple of tables, chairs and ladders to signify the two main houses where the action takes place. GCU's set and costume designer Laynie Nelson used the bare stage to her advantage to highlight the rich details of her impeccable costume designs which included the Stage Manager in modern-day clothing which nicely offset the period appropriate clothing for the rest of the cast. The period hairstyles by Madison Kesterson were quite effective. Armani Randolph's lighting design delivered some stunning visuals and Kary's simple way to demonstrate an oncoming heavy rainstorm, by having members of the cast slap their thighs at an increasing pace, added an excellent theatrical touch.
Wilder's play captures the simple joys and hardships of daily life in a small town in an affectionate and effective way. While Our Town does have elements of sadness, Wilder's uplifting and simple message that every moment of life is a gift that should be treasured rang true with a gratifying sense of beauty in GCU's superb production.
GCU's College of Fine Arts and Production's Our Town played at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre from November 18th through November 27th, 2016. The theatre is located at 3300 W. Camelback Road in Phoenix and ticket and performance information for this show and their upcoming productions can be found at events.gcu.edu/events/category/cofap/ or by calling (602) 639-8880
Written by Thornton Wilder