It has been said that Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN is performed at least once a day in this country or abroad. Yet we constantly need to be reminded of its message: life is for living. The latest production in our area, at STAGES at Camden County College, is a worthy reminder.
The play, as always, is presented on a bare stage with a minimum of props and with some actions, such as preparing breakfast, mimed by the actors. Beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, it depicts life in a small New Hampshire town, Grover’s Corners. The first act establishes some facts about the town and follows many of its citizens through a typical day from breakfast time to bedtime. The main focus is on the Gibbs family and the Webb family. In the second act, two years later, George Gibbs and Emily Webb realize their love for each other and get married. The final act takes place nine years later in the town cemetery, where Emily, having died during the birth of her second child, joins relatives and friends. She is given a chance to relive a happy day, her twelfth birthday, only to realize how quickly life goes by.
The director, Dan Patrick, has striven to make the play more “now” than merely nostalgic, and succeeds to a certain extent. Its timelessness cannot be denied. Ironically, life seems to have passed as rapidly in a simpler time as in our own fast-paced, electronics-driven era.
Patrick has assembled a fine cast. Shawn O’Brien is excellent as the omniscient Stage Manager, who acts as narrator and plays small roles. He is more cheery than Stage Managers usually are, which is all to the good. In addition to being technical director and lighting, scenic and sound designer, Donald Swenson is a perfect Dr. Gibbs. Jabari Fowler gives a strong performance as Mr. Webb, editor of the town newspaper. Anne Buckwheat as Mrs. Gibbs and Elizabeth Rodriquez as Mrs. Webb are ideal housewives who are not desperate and do not complain about their lot. Matthew Weil is impressive as Simon Stimson, the cynical choirmaster whose drunkenness is tolerated by most of the townspeople because of his “peck of troubles” (we never learn what they are). Felice Capece is an amusing Mrs. Soames, the town busybody who tries (and fails) to make an issue of Simon and later waxes rhapsodic over the wedding of George and Emily. As George, Ian Taylor grows from irresponsible youth to eager would-be farmer and husband. Sadie Mawson is a lovely Emily, especially touching in her final monologue as she says goodbye to life.
The lighting and sound are flawless, although a little music before the play begins might be welcome. The choir is offstage, a nice touch.
Don’t miss the chance to see this fine production of an American classic. And don’t forget to take a few moments once in a while in your busy schedule to experience and appreciate life.
by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Dan Patrick
May 4-12, 2012
STAGES at Camden County College
The Little Theatre
Blackwood, NJ 08012-0200
856-727-7200, ext. 4737