The bare stage in Our Town could be a reflection of how we come into and leave the world. With nothing. Thornton Wilder’s classic piece is having a 75th year celebration at Ford’s Theatre with color blind casting that pushes the imagination.
The totally post racial mix brings an energy that honestly would be lacking in the traditional lily white presentation. The town’s über diversity is fresh and exciting and enhances the well known text by adding another layer of unspoken possibilities and wonder. When one of the town’s people hotly asks about social injustice and inequality, the question comes from a very real place when the cast members look like America. Is that enough to keep the show topical and relevant? Well, that depends.
The director, Stephen Rayne, does his best to bring a new energy to the script and for the most part succeeds. As can be seen in previous works directed at Ford’s, Rayne has a gift in helping characters find and express the innermost elements that shapes their identity, drives their struggles and sets their course of action, including resolution. He works his magic here by capturing the production’s enduring strength – relating to and identifying with the characters so much that they become a circle of treasured friends.
At rise, in true breakage of the fourth wall formation, actors drift in almost aimlessly and sit in folding chairs hastily set on the stage while listening to the opening announcements. From the beginning, the distinction between audience and performers is blurred with the actors listening as attentively to the ubiquitous stage manager as any one on the other side of the footlights. The Broadway actress known simply as Portia, by the way, delivers a rock-solid performance as the Stage Manager, calling the shots, describing the town’s quirky characteristics and even quirkier occupants with a first class treatment. As the Narrator, Portia rules the roost, cues lights, sounds, and approach to the scene, even interrupting when necessary and sending the audience to its several intermissions. Without saying a word in a pivotal scene in the final act, she scowls but allows events to unfold and lets the character learn for herself, another of Wilder’s carefully crafted revelations.
The other cast members bring heft to each of their character portrayals as well. Craig Wallace and Kimberly Schraf as the Webbs are both enormously pleasing to the eye and heart. Nobody has a natural strut like Wallace, and from his first entrance with his booming voice and commanding stage presence, he lights up the script. These veteran actors are fun to watch even though they don’t ignite as a couple. James Konicek and Jenn Walker as the Gibbs bring more warmth to their roles, especially Walker who has a well-worn, unassuming manner that represents the constantly working ever- loving earth mother. Konicek as Doc Gibbs is more toned-down than Wallace and is easier to play off of as a caring and observant husband.
Playing the adorable young couple who we watch grow up, Nickolas Vaughan as George Gibbs is fresh faced, gangly and bounces around like a fresh young colt, while Alyssa Gagarin as Emily Webb carries a sweet innocence within her to her dying day. Brynn Tucker is the adorable younger Sis who gets in the way while loving her big brother with a touching affection. The always reliable Frederick Strother is memorable as the constable, and Tom Story plays the town choir director who wrestles his demons of addiction and despair with scene-stealing flourish.
Costumes by Kate Turner-Walker reflect the simple values of the town folk with basic frocks for the ladies and pants and shirts for the men, all in a neutral tannish grey. The striking costume change into pearly whites for the life passages is an exquisite touch. The scenic design by Tony Cisek reaches the stratosphere in one of the most provocatively effective depictions of death that I have seen on any stage. The combined efforts of the artistic designers under the masterstroke of the director depict life and death and the shadowy places in-between with care and attention.
Closes Fenruary 24, 2013
511 Tenth Street, N.W.
2 hours, 30 minutes with 2 intermissions
Tickets: $40 – $62
Tuesdays thru Sundays
As such, it takes a full half of the show for the script to reveal the simple heart of this classic play—that everyday moments are magical. Such glacial pacing might just be mind-numbing for some, but there’s a reason why the play won both a Pulitzer (1938) and a Tony for a Broadway Revival fifty years later (1988). In today’s frenetic, multi-tasking environment, quieting the mind and pulse rate could be just what’s needed to see and appreciate the simple day-to-day precious moments zooming by. As evidenced by seventy five years and counting for this acclaimed work, the reward can last a lifetime.
Our Town by Thornton Wilder . Directed by Stephen Rayne . Featuring Portia, Michael Bunce, Erin Driscoll, Alyssa Gagarin, Kellee Knighten Hough, Joey Ibanez, James Konicek, John Lescault, Susan Lynskey, Kevin McAllister, Tony Nam, Jon Hudson Odom, Tom Story, Kimberly Schraf, Frederick Strother, Brynn Tucker, Nickolas Vaughan, Jenn Walker, Craig Wallace and Christopher Wilson. Scenic Design by Tony Cisek . Costume Design by Kate Turner-Walker . Lighting Design by Pat Collins, Original Music and Sound Design by David Budries and Nathan A. Roberts, Wig and Makeup Design by Anne Nesmith and Movement and Mime Director Mark Jaster. Production Stage Manag,er Brandon Prendergast; Assistant Stage Manager, Kate Kilbane. Produced by Ford’s Theatre. Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
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