Our Town Review
by Jim Farrar
American College Theatre Festival 1987
Life in a small town is mainly a series of little dramas. People are born, get married and, eventually, they die.
Along the way there’s laughter, a few tears, and love. A simple mixture of joy and sorrow, the journey between birth and death is simultaneously staid and dynamic.
From Winesburg, Ohio to Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, small town portraits form an archetypal image of American culture.
Thorton Wilder’s Our Town is a part of this canon. For a college theater group – or any theater group, for that matter – producing a play so well known presents a definite risk. People are familiar with the material and they have expectations.
I’m happy to report that Lane Community College’s mounting of Our Town exceeds expectations.
Director Patrick Torelle’s production is a paragon of teamwork. Cast and crew alike work together like the Boston Celtics running a fast break. From the simple handbill of a program that each member of the audience is given as they enter the auditorium, to the Stage Manager’s curtain line, this show is a winner.
Though the entire technical staff makes a superb effort, lighting designer Richard J. Harris deserves a special nod.
Using both light and color change, Harris creates and maintains the proper atmosphere throughout the play, always augmenting but never dominating the onstage action.
The same can be said of Judith Harrison’s costumes. They place the production in its proper historical context (1901-1913) and, like the lighting, they support without overwhelming.
Our Town is marked by strong performances by the entire cast, an admirable achievement considering its size.
Many of the actors have adopted New England accents. They draw out their vowels and they bear down on their consonants, and even when their dialects become caricatures they still add a colloquial flavor to the show that is appealing. Richard Ellis may go over the top a bit with his character, Howie Newsome, making him sound more like Walter Brennan than a turn-of-the-century New Englander, but, what the hey, that’s just quibbling. The performance still works.
In fact, all of the performances work quite well. Though I did see one of the actors exit through an imaginary door without opening it first, pantomime coach Judith Robers has trained her charges carefully. The mimes are all executed smoothly and believably; we never really notice that there aren’t any props.
Though there are too many fine performances to mention all, several stand out. As the Stage Manager, Norman Fox is an excellent guide through Grover’s Corners. Tall and lanky and casual, he speaks with a voice that betrays no sense of hurry as he ambles around the stage at a “folksy” pace. Almost immediately we warm up to this man.
As the young sweethearts George and Emily, Jeff Bull and Heather Telfer are both amazed and just a little bit frightened by one another, and at the prospect of being adults and of living their lives.
What we get, ultimately, from this production is a time capsule. Even more than that, however, we realize that the passage of years changes only the outward circumstances of our lives. Certain truths will always remain. As Mrs. Soames remarks in the final act, “My, wasn’t life awful. And wonderful.”