Nina Donville as Emily Webb at Our Town’s version of Juliett’s balcony.
The IU Summer Theatre brings Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning Our Town to our towns in a trim fast moving production directed by Dale McFadden. Grover’s Corners even as it grows during the show to a little more than 3,00 is a small microcosm that can seem to be from another time and place, but shares some of our current concerns about meaningful lives, the pursuit of happiness and the inevitability of death.
Our Town is the Summer Theatre’s big show. Its cast includes the judges and the contestants from the …Spelling Bee…and the cast from The Foreigner as well. I’d seen the spellers earlier and it was part of the fun to see them again in new roles.
Mark Ulrich from The Foreigner is a superbly dry stage manager for the unwinding of the show’s stories. He’s part disinterested docent, part concerned citizen and even occasional actor. There’s an authority and a bit of pride in his bossing of the action and the audience but it’s always a little on the piquant side.
In the opening act, “Daily Life”, the stage manager guides us through a day in 1901 and introduces us to two families. There’s Gibb’s family, Dr. Gibbs, Jay c. Hemphil and Mrs. Gibbs, Karen Woditsch with their children sixteen year old George, Michael Bayler and his younger sister Rebecca, Casey McCoy. And the Webb family, Editor Webb, Sean Blake, Mrs. Webb, Marya Grandy, with their daughter Emily, Nina Donville and her younger brother Wally, Cole Winston. The skillful and skillfully directed cast moves briskly through the day’s routines.
At the heart of Our Town is the uniting of the Gibbs and Webb families through the marriage of their son George Gibbs and daughter Emily Webb in act two, “Love and Marriage.” Their courtship begins on two ladders over a question of math homework. George is in love without reservations, but Emily has some questions about the ego of the local hero. Both are solved in a particularly American way…over an ice cream soda…skillfully prepared by the stage manager. There’s a good deal of comedy from the couple and their families leading to the ceremony and the act ends almost too quickly.
The final scenes take place in the graveyard with a thoughtful setting of the scene by the stage manager and the burial of Emily. It’s 1909 and she’s died in the birth of her second child. She joins her mother in law, her younger brother, the town’s drunken choir director and others as they sit silently. Emily is not ready to just sit and decides to revisit her life on the happy day of her 12th birthday. It’s all as it was but now the sensitive Emily is overwhelmed by how unaware her mother and the others all seem. Her emotional outburst, almost out of place, is the most striking of the show, but quickly dissipates as she takes her seat with the others.
Our Town at IU is a dry production, but a nuanced one. Mrs. Gibbs wishes her husband would take a rest that he’d take her to France and that son George would be a little better about chores. Mrs. Webb says raising a daughter is no picnic and her current goal is forty jars of string beans. Justin Smusz as the successive Crowell brothers delivers the morning paper. Mathew Weidenbener is the milkman, always ready with a little extra for the Gibbs and Webb households. James Hogan as the Constable keeps an eye on the town with special concern for the Polish section. Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz leads the village gossip. Joshua M. Smith as the drunken choir director conducts a note perfect hymn with the group which then dramatically breaks down as he falters.
Dan Tracy is responsible for the simple scenic design and the clever appearance of the soda fountain. The Costume design is by Heather Milam. Andrew Hopson adds the choreographed sounds of thunder, train whistles, ringing church bells, clicking horse’s hoofs, clinking glass milk bottles and so on and so on
The IU Summer Theatre’s production of Our Town continues in rotating rep’ with the musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the comedy, The Foreigner through July 28th
You may find this and other reviews and interviews at WFIU dot ORG/ ARTS
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker