Tuesday, January 09, 2001

Our Town

Think back to a time before computers, a time before cell phones, a time before television. Think of a time when a date with your best girl was a soda at the drug store, and when the first kiss was a very big deal.

Think of Grover’s Corners.

Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire is the setting for Thornton Wilder’s classic play, “Our Town,” presented by Acme Theatre Company, under the direction of David Burmester.

The play consists of three acts, with three years between the first and second act and nine years between the second and third act.

The principal actor is the Stage Manager, who remains on stage the entire time explaining much of the action. He is aware of the present, and privy to both the past and the future. Jasen Oler handles the role of Stage Manager competently. He seems perfectly at home as he walks across the nearly bare stage, describing the town, painting the scene, and acting as a liaison between cast and audience.

In the first act we follow a typical day in Grover’s Corners, and meet some of its citizens, as they go about their daily business. George Gibbs (Chris Schmidt) and Emily Webb (Eleanor van Hest) are young adults, living next door to each other, best friends, going to school together, and sharing secrets, dreams, and homework tips, leaning out their respective bedroom windows.

Their mothers, Mrs. Webb (Emily Henderson) and Mrs. Gibbs (Eden Kennedy-Hoffman) spend a lot of time doing kitchen duty--preparing meals, stringing beans for supper, and making a home for their husbands and children, including George’s sister Rebecca (Alexis Beddard) and Emily’s brother Wally (James Henderson).

"Both of those ladies cooked three meals a day - one of 'em for twenty years and the other for forty - and no summer vacation. They brought up two children apiece, washed, cleaned the house ... and never a nervous breakdown. It's like what one of those Middle West poets said: You've got to love life to have life, and you've got to have life to love life... It's what they call a vicious circle,” says the Stage Manager.

The fathers, newspaper editor Mr. Webb (Pheelykx Guttenberg) and Doctor Gibbs (Nick Herbert) chat over the back fence and talk about the goings on in the town. We meet other citizens of Grover’s Corners--Howie, the Milkman (Steven Schmidt), Joe Crowell, the newsboy (Josh Nielson), and Constable Warren (Dylan Myles-Primakoff).

Act two is dedicated to marriage. We witness George and Emily falling in love and we are all invited to the wedding, which is attended by all the townspeople, including a very excited Mrs. Soames (Alaina Boys).

Act three takes place in the town cemetery. Emily has died in childbirth and is buried in the town's cemetery on a rainy, dreary day. There she is reunited with those friends and neighbors who have died before her, and who help her adjust to her new existence. Though Emily is granted one day to return to her old life, we watch her accept death as a natural extension of life and begin to disengage from life, as she finds peace in death.

One of Wilder’s requirements in staging “Our Town” is that the play must be done on a bare stage, with a minimum of props. In his notes to this production, Burmester expresses his desire to make this production different from Acme’s 1987 production, and so he turned to live sound effects. The sound technicians, Clarissa Lyons, Jessica Harris, Sarah Hartmeyer, Nick Herbert, David Markman, Rob Rogers, Steven Schmidt and Jake Stoebel have created a wonderful array of gate squeaks, bowl stirring, silverware clanking, and other sounds that you would find in daily life, but it unfortunately is one of those great ideas that doesn’t work in actuality. The sounds are very distracting and in some cases unnecessarily highlight a bit of pantomime that an actor may have forgotten.

But despite the distraction of the sound effects, Acme has once again presented a polished, professional production. In the end, its simple message teaches us the true value of life. As the Stage Manager says, "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense .... We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names ... that something has to do with human beings."

Three more performances of “Our Town” remain--January 11, 12, and 13, 8 p.m. at the Veterans’ Memorial Theatre. Tickets available at the box office on the night of the performance.

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