In the preface of his infamous work, OUR TOWN, Thornton Wilder defines his play as “an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life.” A question asked throughout the ages, what are those precious moments of life worth? The true optimist Wilder explores this question through the lives of ordinary characters in a New Hampshire small town.
Deb Braak’s production of this classic at Forge Theatre pays homage to Wilder in a minimally designed production with heavy hitters leading the cast. Wilder’s original conception left extraneous props and grand sets for the former age of theater. Director Braak honored that original conception, relying solely on the talent of her actors to tell the story, and the imagination of the audience to create their own world in this tender story of the “all American” family.
Braak’s adept casting clearly shows her talent as a director. With leading roles occupied by some of the strongest actors in the Philadelphia community theater scene including Mike Shoeman as the narrator/Stage Manager, Drake Aaronson, the very talented duo Eric and Maria Jarrell, Sue Murphy, Steve Shultz (who I would happily have seen more of) and Liz McDonald. Shoeman’s strong presence and variety of characters was both delightful and impressive. He draws the audience in the moment he speaks. Having seen Aaronson in over a half dozen productions to date, once again I admire how he slips into his roles with pure ease and ability. Forge’s deserved favorites Eric and Maria Jarrell are simply strong actors, Murphy as Mrs. Webb found both the motherly warmth and New England earthy, no-nonsense charm of her character. John Schanck had some very tender moments as the innocent George. The one questionable choice of casting is McDonald as the young sweetheart Emily Webb proved what kind of acting chops this actress has. Her portrayal was detailed and completely believable. Youngsters Xander Drake and Ellie Jarrell brought that charm of children; as usual they steal the show when the focus is on them.
I would have liked the show to have more of a New England flavor, my only want of Braak’s production. Perhaps more emphasis on the accent would have been enough. Nevertheless Braak told the story well, her passion for theatre evident in her work.
I was recently asked why OUR TOWN is considered such a classic. I believe it is the combination of New England Americana this play encapsulates, and the thought provoking existential theme. Our ingénue Emily Webb has the unique luxury of discovering the path that leads to this question of life’s worth early in her life, albeit a little too late. We should all be so lucky, to truly know the cost of a summer breeze, a hot cup of coffee, a baby’s laugh; or even the mundane wait at the DMV, the frustration of digging your car out of the snow, or the tedious act of figuring out your taxes every year. Wilder’s timeless piece is a wonderful opportunity to meditate on such a question, enjoy Forge’s production, and perhaps, figure out just what that price is.
by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Deb Braak
Dates: Jan 11 – 26, 2013
241 First Avenue
Phoenixville, PA 19460