by Beki Pineda
OUR TOWN – Written by Thornton Wilder; Directed by Len Matheo. Produced by Miners Alley Playhouse (1224 Washington, Golden) through April 28. Tickets available at 303/935-3044 or minersalley.com.
While Thornton Wilder wrote a total of 42 plays of varying lengths, one screenplay (directed by Alfred Hitchcock) and seven novels, his well-deserved reputation rests soundly on the shoulders of his seminal work in OUR TOWN. It has become a universal experience for all play-goers and play actors to see or be in a production as an almost rite of passage. So universal is it that, in addition to the production now being beautifully performed in our own town, 52 additional productions are planned in other locations — towns big and small — all over the country in the 2019-20 theatre season. Even as far away as London and Glasgow, they too want to visit Grover’s Corners, the fictional small town setting for the production.
This is also a show that can be done plain or fancy; I’ve seen it both ways. It was written to have minimal scenery and set dressing; the universal daily routines of the residents of Grover’s Corners are generally mimed, but can also be done with pots and pans and real food. This production uses a mix of modern and traditional with mostly well mimed actions. George and Emily’s scene in the soda fountain with invisible cherry phosphates was especially well done. Brought back the days of my first job when I learned how to make sodas.
The sweet and tender messages embedded in this script are so universal and timeless, they can’t be missed or understated. The first act is called Daily Life and introduces us to the residents of the village and illustrates the small pleasures of family life through a day or two in the lives of the Gibbs and Webb’s families who live side by side. Their two children grow up talking together through the upstairs windows and looking at the same stars.
Act Two is Love and Marriage as these same two children discover each other in new ways and their parents experience the preciousness of daily life as they ponder losing their children. But as they agree, people are meant to go through life two by two. The final act is called Death and Eternity. Several characters we met in Act I have gone to the other side and sit patiently in the cemetery on the hill overlooking the town. A new arrival begs to go back for just a day to experience all of life and learns a valuable lesson.
All of these proceedings are moved along by the Stage Manager, a narrator who explains how things work in the village, introduce us to the characters, brings out guest lecturers to explain the history and origin of the village, steps in as an actor in several scenes and generally acts as a kindly wise elder who knows in advance what’s going to happen and the answer to everyone’s questions. He takes a benevolent view of the growing pains of each generation and predicts both the sameness and the uniqueness of each life. Jim Hunt plays the role to perfection, engaging the audience, comforting nervous bridegrooms, and making sure the play moves right along by signaling the end of a scene and the beginning of another.
The young people are played by Laurence Katz who finally decided to come to Denver to play George after performing in Parker and Conifer and Hannah Haller, a younger prettier version of Emma Stone playing Emily. Their tender growing up and discovering each other is delightful to behold. But I have one complaint: Hannah, you rushed that last beautiful speech and left off some of the things on the “grateful” list. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?? Lisa DeCaro and Rory Pierce made a delightful Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs as they face the prospect of losing their son. Josh Hartwell and Shauna Earp are the other couple, Emily’s parents The other characters are played by the remaining seven actors.
The furniture based set works well for the production and the attempt at in-the-round seating incorporates part of the audience as wedding guests. This allowed them to spend more time on the lighting and the excellent sound effects. Of special charm was tiny Sam Charney leading an invisible milk horse across the stage to the milk jars rattling together, the horse whinnying, and the clip clop of the hooves; I enjoyed the thump of the invisible newspapers as they are thrown into the audience.
If there is the slightest chance that there’s someone out there who has NOT seen a version of OUR TOWN, you really must go see this production. It will introduce you to this American classic and whet your appetite to see it again and again.
A WOW factor of 9