The American Globe Theatre provided just about everything to be expected from a conventional production of Our Town. James Doerr was avuncular and quietly authoritative as the Stage Manager; Dennis Turney and Kara Jackson portrayed the wide-eyed innocence of emerging adulthood of George and Emily; the elder Gibbs and Webbs (Betty Hudson, Tim McDonnell, John Moss and Alyson Reim) provided the right doses of age-tested wisdom and genuine country charm. There was the requisite minimalist set and lighting (designed by Thomas A. Pascarella)-with its bare wood floor, ladders, chairs and subtle washes of illumination. Melissa C. Richards's costumes carefully conveyed turn-of-the-century details, and all those welcoming shades of brown that color the New Hampshire countryside. Vincent A. Masterpaul's staging was skillfully subtle and unobtrusive, just as Wilder's aesthetic demands. If nothing shocked or surprised in this production, nothing disappointed or faltered, either. The American Globe captured everything familiar about Our Town, and captured it well.
But now-more than any other moment in recent history-the politics of this seemingly non-political play must be confronted. First produced in 1938, Our Town was Wilder's attempt not only to celebrate the beauty of everyday rural American life, but more importantly to connect our isolated, domestic experiences to larger global and metaphysical contexts as we struggled with the losses of one world war and feared the approach of another. Clearly, there are some strong parallels with recent history. Who among us does not, as the ghost of Emily Webb comes to do, now look back on our own pre-9/11 existence with a mixture of longing for its relative simplicity and disdain for our own ignorance? What American does not hold some new attitude on the relationship between everyday life and untimely death? Some elements of the drama still resonate precisely as Wilder envisioned.
But mostly, the play's unquestioning spiritual optimism, and its complete sentimental investment in the death of one individual, felt inappropriate for this particular historical moment. With plentiful, unforeseen, nonsensical loss of life on our own soil so fresh in the national consciousness, this town and inhabitants feel in no way like "ours." Can Warren's amazement that "citified" folks are actually locking their doors at night, or George's fears of leaving home and having to meet people from other towns who may not be friendly, still be presented from the same wistful and uncritical perspective? With so many tears shed in anger, frustration and loss, are there any left to spend on Emily? The hermetic isolation of Grovers Corners no longer serves any good to anyone. Why, even for two hours, pretend otherwise?
This moment cries out for some new approach to Wilder's unquestioning sentimentalism-a new interpretation of Our Town that does not ignore the lessons history is now teaching to America. This production, adept though it was in serving Wilder's original vision, never seemed interested in undertaking that challenge.
Also featuring: Bob Armstrong, Chris Blisset, Frank Copeland, Brett Galotta, Laura Gillis, Betty Hudson, Mercury, Matthew Morgan, Ryan O'Hara, Michael Schwendemann, Chuck Worthington.
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Copyright 2002 Jonathan Shandell