“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
So muses the Stage Manager, omniscient narrator, in Act Three of Thornton Wilder’s classic play of life affirmation, Our Town, the 1938 Pulitzer Prize Drama winner and 1989 Drama Desk and Tony Awardee for Revival.
It must have surprised opening night’s audience on February 4, 1938 at Henry Miller’s Theatre in New York. Frank Craven as the Stage Manager began the show by directly addressing the audience with homespun language in a natural speaking voice, introducing the town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, circa 1901, personally transporting the audience to that “something…eternal about every human being”, Wilder’s lyrical script his magic wand. It’s not how most plays began in 1938, much less in 2010. Our Town has been performed literally thousands of times since. It speaks eloquently and simply to the eternal in everyone.
This poignant play about life passages requires a high degree of skill and creativity from production team and cast to work properly. Water Tower Theatre opened its production of Our Town on September 24, with Artistic Director Terry Martin directing as well as playing the Stage Manager. By Act Three’s conclusion, after the twenty-three actors had shared their characters’ life and death experiences, few eyes remained dry in the house. Experiencing a superbly performed production of this play feels pure transcendence, like a spiritual rebirth. That’s what Water Tower Theatre’s seamless, heartfelt ensemble performance accomplishes.
Terry Martin makes a kindly, commanding Stage Manager and maintains a leisurely pace throughout, allowing his actors to soar and resonate within each scene, never dragging down the production tempo.
Sterling acting abounds, standouts include: Emily Scott Banks as the effusively loving, generous-spirited Mrs. Gibbs; Stan Graner as the honorable, hard-working family man Mr. Webb; Russell Dean Schultz as the well-intentioned, easily flustered Professor Willard; Nancy Sherrard as the effervescent Mrs. Soames; Ted Wold as deeply troubled drunkard Simon Stimson; and Joey Folsom as trusting, dutiful son and devoted husband George Gibbs. A few quibbles: Terry Martin’s opening transition from Water Tower Artistic Director reminding all to turn off cell phones, etc. to the Stage Manager in Grover’s Corners happened with so little definition I missed it. Modern dress costumes worked fine throughout the show; dressing Mary Margaret Pyeatt as Mrs. Webb in turn of the century attire in the final dream sequence feels distracting and unnecessary.
The elegant simplicity of the minimalist set design (Clare Floyd DeVries) fosters full attention on acting and script: wooden tables and chairs in wide open thrust space with upstage ‘black boards’ for chalk-drawn windows and the theatre’s second story balcony openings employed for intimate scenes.
The surprise final dream scene realite hits the audience with powerful emotional impact as deceased Emily Gibbs (Maxey Whitehead) retreats from it in full-blown grief.
Our Town celebrates life at soul level. Celebrate Water Tower Theatre’s production that honors Wilder’s play in spirit and execution, in every way.
The production runs through October 24. Tickets: 972-450-6232
As published in October 2010 issue, Arts & Culture Magazine