July 29, 2010 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
Thornton Wilder’s Our Town shows us again, no matter how many times we have seen it, or even directed it, as I have, just why this play is important—especially when the play is presented in such a finely nuanced manner, faithful to the original, as with this Williamstown Theatre Festival production.
Wilder himself complained that critics had been led astray on his seeming innovations of a bare stage on which a chair could be a tombstone (an innovation only for American realist theatre; Yeats and French dramatists had been doing that for years).
For Wilder the importance was in the simple (but ever present references in the script to ther dimensions of time and space and the recurrent words “hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, pointing to the vastness in which the events of each life flowers, lives and dies. The universality and importance of each small event in which each life is lived.
It is that quality of the enormous vastness and the simple day to day life of ordinary people that is so honestly captured in the play Nicholas Martin, director, has led his talented cast through. An affirmation of life, presented faithfully, joyfully, and sadly—so gently but accurately presented that a line like ‘Where is my birthday girl?” can break the heart.
The cast is stellar on all counts. Campbell Scott as Stage Manager so audience friendly and confiding, strolling the stage casually, weaving it all into its daily patterns (with only a reminding concerning cell phones to jerks us mildly to recognition of an earlier time when that line was not in any life or script). Brie Larson, central in this “Emily’s Play.” Taking that lead only when her turn to do so and shining especially in her sudden outburst at the soda-fountain, and, of course in the final act when her awareness finally takes hold. Jessica Hecht and Dylan Baker as moving parents, but both too busy with their daily lives too much of the time to have time to really see the children they love fiercely but too seldom time for expressing to them.
And the whole Gibbs family into which Emily marries, too young, and is wrest from (again too young) Mrs. Gibbs (Becky Ann Baker) with her modest dream of Paris if she sells the antique never full-filled; Dr. Gibbs (John Rubinstein) opening the play with his delivery of the twin babies as life goes on. Will Rogers as the inarticulate baseball hero son in the Gibbs family who loves Emily so fervently. And Emma Rosenthal as daughter Rebecca who receives the letter with the address into infinity and has the short remarkable line “And it got here just the same!” .
Be assured the current Our Town at Williamstown Theatre Festival gets here all the same too. With more glories than can be praised in a short review. Wilder, who once long ago appeared as the stage manager at Williamstown, would be happy with his message ringing loud and clear, and grateful to all the others in this vast talented cast who made it possible. Go.
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