Act one will calm, act two will excite and the finale will not only make you cry, it will force you to think about the things that really matter.
[pullquote]The immediate reaction to Wilder’s play is one of simplicity. But don’t let that simplicity confuse you with something less than fulfilling because while not much happens in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, it is so filled with life that it will simply transport you.[/pullquote]Such is the power of the beautifully realized Osimous Theatre production of Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play about small town life that is a tonic for our modern world. And by the time we reach its inevitable conclusion, we too come to the realization that life is both awful and wonderful.
The immediate reaction to Wilder’s play is one of simplicity. But don’t let that simplicity confuse you with something less than fulfilling because while not much happens in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, it is so filled with life that it will simply transport you.
Of course, helping to immerse us into Wilder’s world is the skilled ensemble of Osimous Theatre led by Artistic Director Bob Frazer, who also plays the role of Stage Manager here.
The first to break down the fourth wall, Frazer helps to set the stage and the characters that we are about to meet. With clipboard in hand, Frazer moves seamlessly from the pre-show announcements to his duties inside the play itself, as if Wilder too had written the reminder to turn off cellphones. There is a friendly ease about him that helps us feel as if we’re as important and integral, as any of the actors on stage, to what is about to happen.
That feeling of inclusion is helped by staging the action in and around and the audience. In our recent interview with Frazer he said the vision was as if the audience was invited into the homes of the Grover’s Corners residents; this production delivers on that idea.
Like Frazer, who is also called upon to fill in for some of the other incidental characters, the equally terrific ensemble – Craig Erickson, Quelemia Stacey Sparrow, John Shaw, Dawn Petten, Lauren Jackson and Chris Cope – take on the central roles of the Gibbs and Webb families , but also a variety of other town folk and even, in one particularly funny scene, a brood of chickens. The cast also act as Foley artists for each other, as the characters go about their everyday: delivering milk, pumping water, mowing the lawn or even the whistle of the 5:45 for Boston.
Lauren Jackson and Chris Cope, who play the young lovers Emily and George, are electrifying together; there is an honesty and comfortableness about them that makes you believe the natural progression of their seemingly predetermined lives together. There is a particularly memorable scene at the town’s soda fountain that is so filled with love and hope that it will have you pining for the innocence of your own youth. And Jackson is simply devastating in act three as she encapsulates Wilder’s central question as to whether “human beings ever realize life while they live it?” In the context of our seemingly 24/7 modern lives, this question touches to our core perhaps more than any other time since Wilder wrote his play.
As the Webb family matriarch, Dawn Petten is as practical as any hardworking women of the time, but manages to portray a love for her family that is simply unconditional and ultimately believable. When she breaks down at her daughter’s wedding, you feel her conflict, but you also feel her love.
The decision to place the audience with the action happening around them emphasizes the simplicity, with minimal set, and the intimacy of what we are watching. We are drawn further into their world with subtle looks, a knowing touch and even small moments of participation. It is nothing frightening, but allows us another access point to these characters and their lives. We really do become part of Grover’s Corners. And as the Stage Manager wishes you a final good night, like me, you may want to linger a while longer too.
Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Directed by the ensemble. An Osimous Theatre production. On stage at the First Christian Reformed Church (2670 Victoria Dr) until October 18. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets or visit http://osimous.com for more information.