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The Justice Theater Project’s Fresh, New Version of “Our Town” Is Based on the Current Off-Broadway Production

The Justice Theater Project will present a fresh, new production of OUR TOWN, the groundbreaking masterpiece of Modern Drama by Madison, WI-born playwright Thornton Wilder (1897-1975), on Sept. 10-12, 17-19, and 24-26 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, NC. The JTP presentation, guest-directed by Kevin Ferguson, will be based on the current Off-Broadway production, directed by David Cromer, which opened on Feb. 26, 2009 at the Barrow Street Theatre and is still running and won the 2009 Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Revival and Outstanding Director, plus the 2009 OBIE for Best Director and the 2009 Independent Theater Bloggers Association Award for Best Off-Broadway Revival.

According to The Justice Theater Project:

“[Our] cast wears contemporary clothing that could have come from their own closets, allowing them to blend with the audience in this intimate production where you feel you are a member of the Grover’s Corners community. Narrated by a Stage Manager [played by J. Chachula] and performed with minimal props and sets, this production is without sentimentality or the false balm of nostalgia. [It f]eatur[es] a multi cultural cast.”

In addition to J. Chachula as the Stage Manager, the rest of The Justice Theater Project cast for OUR TOWN includes Susannah Hough as Mrs. Gibbs; Stephen LeTrent as Doctor Gibbs; Lucas Campbell as George Gibbs; Kate Brittain as Rebecca Gibbs; Megan Mazzocchi as Mrs. Webb; Jack Prather as Editor Webb; Ali Hammond as Emily Webb; Brian Driskill as Wally Webb; Ian Finley as Simon Stimson; Renee Wimberley as Mrs. Soames; Sean Brosnahan as Howie Newsome; Glenn Driskill as Joe Crowell, Jr.; Josh Teder as Sam Craig; Bing Cox as Joe Stoddard; John Honeycutt as Constable Warren; Lester Hill as Professor Willard; Eli Miller as Si Crowell; Barbette Hunter as Irma; and Colleen Guest, Laura Sheridan, and Rob Cui as Citizens of Grover’s Corners.

JTP guest director Kevin Ferguson, says, “I’ve never worked on any production of OUR TOWN prior to this. I use it as a teaching reference in class with my students, but mostly to point out the use the effective use of pantomime in storytelling.”

He adds, “I love what a really beautiful piece of theater it actually is. It’s just so full of these constant small, honest, and brilliantly illuminating moments about the essence of what the word humanity means; the way they all accumulate to just knock you on your butt by the end of the show.

“The chance to realize the show in a different way, and to hopefully change people’s preconceived notions of what this show really are the main reasons I wanted to direct it,” confesses Kevin Ferguson. “It’s a classic of the American theater for good reason, but to be able to bring Cromer’s new vision to life with some of the finest actors in the area was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

A three-act play originally set in the fictional small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, circa 1901-13, OUR TOWN celebrates the wonderful gift of life in a series of vivid vignettes introduced and narrated by a Stage manager (for Justice Theater Project). The play’s divisions are “Act I: Daily Life,” “Act II: Love and Marriage,” and “Act III: Death and Eternity”; and Wilder elevates a typical boy-marries-the-girl-nextdoor story into a transcendent tale that still resonates with audiences 72 years after its January 1938 premiere at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ. OUR TOWN’S Broadway-debut production won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Besides director Kevin Ferguson, The Justice Theater Project creative team for OUR TOWN includes assistant director Christine Zagrobelny, musical director Ian Finley, technical director and set designer Lexie Nichols, lighting designer Tom Wolf, costume designer Nora Murphy, and properties manager and stage manager Elsbeth Turner.

According to director Kevin Ferguson, the major challenge of staging OUR TOWN is: “Respecting and honoring Wilder’s text, without treating it too preciously. As most know, it is a deceptively simple show, which makes it much easier to mess up,” Ferguson claims. “Putting our stamp on it without alienating our audience with the approach we’re taking.”

He adds, “I used to think I knew everything I needed to know about OUR TOWN. I used to be completely wrong.”

Set designer Lexie Nichols says, “I’ve worked on OUR TOWN before in high school and in college, so I feel very familiar with the show. Listening to [director] Kevin [Ferguson] talk about this production made me really want to be a part of it. I think people have so many conceptions about how OUR TOWN should be, but this production is very fresh, simple, and streamlined, which really suits the script, when you get down to it.”

Nichols adds, “The main challenge in such a simple production for a scenic designer is to fulfill all the needs of the show without ever becoming a distraction. While this is true in any production, a stripped-down version of a show is almost harder in its simplicity. I’m really looking forward to working with this team and am happy to work with The Justice Theatre Project, because I really believe in their vision.”

Lighting designer Tom Wolf says the show’s lighting is “minimal”; but costume designer Nora Murphy adds, “The costumes for this production are set in present-day attire. All actors will be in what you would expect the roles to be in today. The changes will come in the wedding scene when all will be in attire as would be customary for a celebration. The other area of change will take place in the third act when Emily goes back to her life when she was 12. All who are attending the funeral will be in mourning black clothes. Wally, who is among the deceased, will be in his Boy Scout uniform. The others deceased are in present-day dress.”

The Justice Theater Project presents OUR TOWN at 8 p.m. Sept. 00-00, 3 p.m. Sept. 10-11, 17-18, and 24-25 and 2 p.m. Sept. 12, 19, and 26 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27613.

TICKETS: $15 ($12 students and seniors).

BOX OFFICE: 919/264-7089, marketing@thejusticetheaterproject.org, or https://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/index.php/jtproject/production/129/.

PRESENTER: http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/.

VENUE: http://www.stfrancisraleigh.org/.

PARKING/DIRECTIONS: http://www.stfrancisraleigh.org/mapsandphotos.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 8 p.m. Sept. 24th performance. Visually impaired patrons and their driver will be admitted for FREE, but must make reservations via 919/264-7089 or marketing@thejusticetheaterproject.org.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=6845 (Internet Broadway Database listing for 1938 production) and http://www.barrowstreettheatre.com/whats-on/town.asp (official website for current Off-Broadway production).

The Playwright: http://www.tcnj.edu/~wilder/biography/frame.html (Thornton Wilder Society) and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8887 (Internet Broadway Database).

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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