Raleigh Little Theatre has always been known for producing high quality theatre with a great deal of artistic value, and their production of Our Town, which premiered Friday, April 9, was no exception to this standard. Even the most knowledgeable Thornton Wilder fan would not have been disappointed with this performance, which stuck very close to Wilder’s original script and intentions while still managing to have a dark and ominous flavor all its own.
For those not familiar with the famous play, Our Town relates the history of the small town of Grover’s Corner and its residents from 1901 to 1913. While the stories of these residents and of the town itself are not anything new or uncommon, first time viewers soon realize that this is what makes the unfolding of the final act so very powerful. In this rendition, especially, the final act packs a real punch, reminding everyone of the unfortunate brevity and simplicity of our lives here on Earth.
It is hard to say exactly what makes this production of the classic so mesmerizing. Perhaps it is the dark, almost cramped stage that gives one the feeling of being in a small, smothering town (and life), or perhaps it is the fabulously understated and ominous lighting design by Rick Young. The superb acting is yet another facet that lends itself to the show’s magic. Chris Brown’s portrayal of the Stage Manager, a character most believe represents God, is incredibly multifaceted, yet Brown still manages to make it look completely effortless. Likewise, the performances of Steven Herd (George Gibbs) and Allison Powell (Emily Webb) as two young lovers are believable and sweet. These two actors do particularly well with the sometimes difficult to pull off pantomiming, particularly during a scene where the two sip milkshakes in the drug store.
For newer audiences not familiar with Wilder, it is easy how many would mistake the pantomiming, sparsely decorated stage, and lack of real action to mean that Raleigh Little Theatre had done a poor job in carrying out the show, when in fact the company stuck closer to Wilder’s intentions than most performances as of late. This is perhaps the reason that a special “Talk Back” session with Wilder specialist David Garrett Izzo was held following the Friday April 23 showing. During Izzo’s talk, one could see a look of understanding and realization fall over many of the younger audience members’ faces, and this is one of the truly impressive things about Raleigh Little Theatre. This company just has a knack for making great theatre available to everyone.
The show ended its run with a matinee performance on Sunday, April 25. Next up for Raleigh Little Theatre will be the July 2010 product of The Great Cross Country Race (or the Tortoise and the Hare) as part of the company’s Youth Series, followed by a August 2010 production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical comedy that is sure to delight. For more information about the theatre and obtaining tickets for future shows visit http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org.