Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is historically performed without scenery or props. The actors mime their way through the ins and outs of daily life in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th Century.
Because in Our Town, the emphasis isn’t on the action; it’s on the words. It’s on the relationships. It’s on the way people communicate—or don’t—in this simple and stalwart town; one where even long-time friends and neighbors speak of their husbands with the formality of prefixes.
In Our Town, Wilder focuses on erasing the things that don’t matter to highlight the things that do. But the citizens of this ordinary, Any Town, USA don’t seem to be taking the message.
Les Waters, the Artistic Director of Actors Theatre, has not strayed from Wilder’s sensibilities in the production. The large cast, including the real-life stage manager and board operator, are in plain sight of the audience on the nearly empty stage for the entire production—sitting on the plastic chairs one might find in a high school cafeteria.
It is perhaps that cavernous and empty space that swallows the actors’ voices, making it difficult to hear on occasion. Thankfully, talented local actor Gregory Maupin doesn’t suffer the same malady with his keen characterization of town drunk Simon Stimson.
With the help of an intricate model of the town (Scenic Designer Mimi Lien) Bruce McKenzie as the Stage Manager admirably leads the cast in painting a picture of daily life—propelled by clear and focused mime; which is why the oversized moon that appears in the middle of act II seems out of place and inconsistent.
But McKenzie cannot be overshadowed. His contemplative portrayal leads him down a path which renders him visibly emotional at times, and he is successful in bringing most of the audience right along with him.
Our Town is often thought of as a quaint little play, reminiscing about the way life used to be. But perhaps Thornton Wilder was hoping for something a little more timeless; a little more universal; a little more than just a love story without a happy ending.
Perhaps Wilder imagined what Les Waters and his team were able to so deftly deliver: a story that drops the harried pretense and clutter of daily existence to reveal how life might look from the other side—and the gentle suggestion that maybe we should take that look now, before it’s too late.
Our Town continues through February 9 at Actors Theatre. Tickets are available online or by calling 502-584-1205.
Image: B.Brymer/Actors Theatre