Thornton Wilder’s perennially popular impressionistic 1938 drama OUR TOWN is a deceptively difficult script to pull off successfully. On the surface, it seems so simple, because the play consists of a series of brief but vivid vignettes, performed on a stage bare but for a few pieces of furniture, organized around three familiar themes — Act I: Daily Life, Act II: Love and Marriage, and Act III: Death and Eternity — and tied together by a pithy narrative commentary, delivered matter-of-factly by the Stage Manager (played in the current The Justice Theater Project production by J. Chachula). But this slice-of-life in the fictional — but typical — turn-of-the-century small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, circa 1901-13, can be quite juicy — as it is in the current JTP presentation, smartly staged by guest-director Kevin Ferguson, based on the current modern-dress Off-Broadway production production, directed by David Cromer, which employs a gimmick, late in the play, that Triangle audiences should discover for themselves.
The charismatic J. Chachula is a great choice for the play’s omniscient narrator. He delivers playwright Thornton Wilder’s philosophic and often poetic observations about life and love in small-town America at the dawn of the 20th century with great conviction and a dash of wry wit.
OUR TOWN revolves around the lives of two typical families, the Gibbses and the Webbs, who live side-by-side. The always reliable Stephen LeTrent and the radiant Susannah Hough put plenty of personality into their performances as the crusty Dr. Frank Gibbs, and his unfulfilled wife, Julia. (Julia would love nothing more than to travel abroad, but cannot persuade her husband to tour anything by battlefields of the War Between the States.) Jack Prather and Megan Mazzocchi add convincing characterizations of local newspaper editor Charles Webb and his wife, Myrtle.
Lucas Campbell and Ali Hammond make a cute couple as high school baseball star and future farmer George Gibbs and the bright and beautiful girl-next-door Emily Webb; and Ian Finley, Renee Wimberley, Sean Brosnahan , John Honeycutt, Lester Hill, contribute sharply etched cameos as morose choirmaster Simon Stimson, garrulous wedding guest Mrs. Soames, milkman Howie Newsome, Constable Warren, and the somewhat pedantic Professor Willard.
Director Kevin Ferguson does a fine job of utilizing every inch of set designer Lexie Nichols’ minimalist set, as well as other portions of the Clare Hall auditorium; and the contributions of lighting designer Tom Wolf, costume designer Nora Murphy, and properties manager Elsbeth Turner also deserve kudos for adding authenticity to the production.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 13th Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/reviews/2010/092010/JTP.html. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 7th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/09/the-justice-theater-projects-fresh-new-version-of-our-town-is-based-on-the-current-off-broadway-production/.)
The Justice Theater Project presents OUR TOWN at 8 p.m. Sept. 18 and 24-25 and 2 p.m. Sept. 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, email@example.com, or https://www.etix.com/.
NOTE 1: On Sept. 18th, there will be a 7:30 p.m. preshow discussion with N.C. State Representative Chris Heagarty (D-Wake).
NOTE 2: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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