The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 12, 2013

Emotionally moving ‘Our Town’ works on all levels


By DAVE DeLUCA - For the Star Beacon
Star Beacon

ASHTABULA —  The G.B. Community Theatre’s production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” delivers on all levels.

It is entertaining, enlightening and emotionally moving. There is humor and there is pathos. Most of all, the casting and performances are perfect. As an example of the audience’s appreciation, Saturday night’s performance at the Ashtabula Arts Center brought down a nearly full house with a standing ovation.

Since its first showing in 1938 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., “Our Town” has become a perennial repertory favorite. The play won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938. It was been revived and produced in countless cities and small towns over the years, and is often referred to as the quintessential American drama.

Today, those who attempt a production of “Our Town” are met with some formidable obstacles. The play is set in a typical small town, Grover’s Corners, N.H., in the period of 1902 to 1913. In the year of its original production, this era was not far from public memory. In 2013, few people remember horse-drawn milk carts and streets without cars. These historical elements must serve the universal story in order for the audience to suspend disbelief and follow along.

The G.B. Community Theatre production presents them more than adequately as color, allowing the audience to merge with the story without the need for explanations that distract. It is a slice of life from a time gone by, but a modern audience can understand what’s going on. The result is a strong identification with the characters and the situations they find themselves in.

Probably the character most responsible for helping this process is called the ‘stage manager.’ In this case he is not a real stage manager, but rather a narrator or guide who interjects asides and information about “Our Town” and its denizens. Tom Milligan does a brilliant job of playing this part. His New Hampshire accent is impeccable and his stage presence is powerful.

Also giving great performances are Dennis Dixon as the town’s doctor, Dr. Gibbs, and Martha Sorohan as his wife, Mrs. Gibbs. Endearing performances are given by Derek Lebzelter as the town newspaper’s editor and publisher, Mr. Webb, and by Lisa Lowery as his wife, Mrs. Webb. The story focuses mostly on the lives of these two families and their children, George Gibbs and Emily Webb, who are portrayed with passionate conviction by Tim Kolman and Emily Baker.

Although these two young thespians are still in high school, they have plenty of stage experience. Dixon, Sorohan, Lebzelter and Lowery are all experienced actors and actresses, and it definitely shows. Nick Cusano does a great job of playing the town drunk, Simon Stimson. In fact all of the cast, from lead characters to supporting characters like other family members, the milkman, the constable, the professor and others are flawlessly portrayed. The play’s director, Stephen Rhodes, has every right to be proud of the cast he has brought together. Their chemistry works incredibly well, and everyone hits their marks. The production is played professionally and with feeling.

“Our Town” is a three-act play with two ten-minute intermissions. These three acts are referred to as ‘Daily Life,’ ‘Love and Marriage’ and ‘Death and Eternity.’ Because of the care given to presenting the play faithfully, the actors must rearrange their personae to accommodate each change in life. With a less experienced cast there could have been some glitches with delivering lines in the right context, but the G.B. Community Theatre’s cast handles it all with no problem.

“Our Town” has no real sets and very few props. But there is still plenty to do for the real stage manager Brianna Wiley, who literally brings the production to life with sound and light. Roz Molder provided period costumes. They work perfectly in helping set the atmosphere.

Although Wilder chose to use what he called ‘meta-theatrical’ elements like these in the production, there are also innovations like ‘split screen’ settings. These involve more than one conversation or scene occurring simultaneously. These simultaneous scenes are difficult to pull off, but the G.B. Community Theatre’s production manages to do so with ease. The play is obviously very well rehearsed.

At the close of the play, the narrator teases the audience with the notion that there must be something eternal beyond life and death. It is perhaps a bit much for the audience to agree with at first, but after seeing this production of “Our Town” the message becomes easy to go along with. Life should be celebrated while it happens. As an example of this philosophy “Our Town” captures the essence of eternity reflected in life. And this is what makes it a play that will be performed for years to come. This production is definitely well worth seeing.

The play continues today and at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniros and students. Save $2 by getting tickets in advance, which is prior to 4 p.m. today or by noon on Saturday for Saturday and Sunday performances.