Our Town Review - The Dowager Gets a Facelift!

Author Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize drama, OUR TOWN, inaugurates the Actors Co-op 25th anniversary season at the David Schall Theatre in Hollywood. The only writer to win Pulitzer Prizes for both drama (OUR TOWN and “The Skin of Our Teeth”) and fiction (“The Bridge of San Luis Rey”), Wilder’s classic play lifts the commonplace into the timeless. In this fascinating multi-cultural version, which includes an ethnically diverse cast of 17, OUR TOWN is as relevant today as it was when first presented in 1938. Award-winning director Richard Israel helms the piece with a sure hand. OUR TOWN is a brilliant gem by a multi-talented author, a skilled director, and a gifted cast. The Actors Co-op has a winner opening the new season.

James Simenc, R.J. Farrington, and Isabella Magas - Photo by Michael Lamont

Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, a small town a few miles from the Massachusetts border, is an ordinary town filled with a couple of thousand ordinary people. From that simple start, Wilder has woven a complex tapestry of intertwined lives. Like conductors of a symphonic orchestra with many instruments, Wilder and Israel keep the music faultlessly in tune, artfully demonstrating how the commonplace can achieve a kind of perfection. Keeping pace with the unfolding of the play, violinist Eden Livingood and Cellist Jean-Paul Barjon accent the moments.

Crystal Jackson (Center) and OUR TOWN cast - Photo by Michael Lamont

With a nearly empty stage and almost no props (the cast members mime their day-to-day chores), Wilder has presented a kaleidoscope about life, death, and absolutely everything in between. OUR TOWN’s Stage Manager (Crystal Jackson) lets us know the details about where and when as she introduces us to some of the people who live in Grover’s Corners and narrates information about the proceedings, beginning in 1901.

James Simenc and Eva Abramian - Photo by Michael Lamont

Small town Dr. Gibbs and his wife (David Atkinson and R.J. Farrington) have a teenaged son, George (James Simenc) who has an eye on Emily (Eva Ambramian), the fetching girl next door. Emily is the daughter of the editor of the local newspaper and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Webb (Richard Soto and Heather Chesley). In small towns, love and marriage go together – so you know what to expect. Each of the denizens of Grover’s Corners has a story, and bits and pieces are scattered through the play with almost casual abandon. After all, the people in OUR TOWN aren’t important or well-known. They’re just ordinary people leading quiet – even boring – lives. Maybe like all of us.

Crystal Jackson and Richard Soto - Photo by Michael Lamont

But Wilder can’t help asking: “Do human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?” Are we so involved in living that we forget to appreciate everything – even the small things – that constitute a life? Does it matter whether our experiences are BIG or small? OUR TOWN is a perfect example of small lives – or is it?

James Simenc and Eva Abramian - Photo by Michael Lamont

Scenic designed Rich Rose got to relax a bit in this production – but probably had his hands full making an empty stage come alive. Cameron Combe’s sound and Vicki Conrad’s costumes add to the “simple” tale. And, of course, Richard Israel’s superb direction of a large, diverse cast with a single goal.

OUR TOWN runs through October 23, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (with Saturday matinees scheduled for 9/24/16 and 10/22/16 at 2:30 p.m.) and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $30 (seniors $25 and students $20). The David Schall Theatre is located at 1760 N. Gower Street on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. For information and reservations, call 323-462-8460 or go online.               

MuraMeter *****

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