Impressive but uneven OUR TOWN by Shotgun Players
OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder. Directed by Susannah Martin. Shotgun Players, Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. (510) 841-6500. www.shotgunplayers.org.
EXTENDED TO JANUARY 25, 2015
Impressive but uneven OUR TOWN by Shotgun Players Rating:
Thornton Wilder is best known for his full length play Our Town, but he was also an accomplished master of the short play form, specifically creating shorter works to be staged in spaces such as Shotgun’s Ashby Theatre, with the action taking place with the audience seated on either side of the performing area. Lifelong friends with Gertrude Stein and a mentor to Edward Albee, Thornton Wilder tirelessly experimented with theatrical forms and conventions. In the early 1930s he wrote The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden (1931), which features the first appearance of Wilder’s narrating Stage Manager character (seven years before Our Town was produced). Later he wrote The Long Christmas Dinner” in which he breaks the boundaries of time as we measure it, following 90 years of an extended family’s holiday dinners. Those two conventions foreshadow his magnum opus Our Town that won a Pulitzer Prize and is probably the most popular play still being produced around the world.
The Shotgun Players has put together a fine production of the play adhering to the Wilder’s tenants of bare bones staging with the cast miming the actions, breaking the fourth wall and taking the characters through a 14 year journey. It all takes place in a specific time and place. The Stage Manager tells us that the place is “Grover Corners, New Hampshire – just across the Massachusetts line- and the day is May 7, 1901.”
Written in three acts, Act 1 introduces “Daily Life”, Act 2 is “Love and Marriage” and Act 3 is “Death and Dying.” The Stage Manager (Madeline H. D. Brown) describes the town and introduces the major and minor characters who have cogent remarks or observations that create a ‘real town’ of the fictional Grover’s Corners. The major characters are the Webbs (Mrs. Webb [Michelle Talgarow], Mr. Webb [Don Wood] and Emily [El Beh]) and Gibbs families (Mrs. Gibbs [Molly Noble], Doc Gibbs [Tim Kniffin] and George Gibbs [Josh Schell]). The denizens of the town are introduced by the Stage Manager who has cogent remarks about each as they enter the acting area. Their entrance and exits are through the audience and up and down the raked seating area, often sitting with the audience.
Director Susannah Martin has grasped Wilder’s intent and inventively moves the actors about drawing the audience into the play. Accolades are earned by (alphabetically) Tim Kniffin, Molly Noble, Josh Schell, Michelle Talgarow, Don Wood and Christine Macomber. This reviewer has ambivalent feelings about depicting an androgynous Stage Manager. This may be to emphasize the universality of Wilder’s play but is not necessary since both males and females have effectively played the role. Madeline H. D. Brown beautifully under-plays the role and does not miss a line but just misses giving superb performance.
One should see this staging since it does justice to Wilder’s concepts of theatre. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with two intermissions.
CAST: MADELINE H.D. BROWN (Stage Manager); EL BEH (Emily Webb); WILEY NAMAN STRASSER (Howie Newsome, Ensemble); MICHELLE TALGAROW (Mrs. Myrtle Webb); MOLLY NOBLE (Mrs. Gibbs); SAM JACKSON(Mrs. Soames, Ensemble); KAREN OFFEREINS (Rebecca Gibbs, Ensemble);TIM KNIFFIN (Dr. Gibbs); VALERIE FACHMAN (Constable Warren, Ensemble); CHRISTINE MACOMBER (Professor Willard, Ensemble); JOSH SCHELL (George Gibbs); CHRISTOPHER W. WHITE (Simon Stimson, Ensemble); ELI WIRTSCHAFTER (Joe/Si Crowell, Sam Craig); DON WOOD (Mr. Webb);
ARTISTIC CREW: SUSANNAH MARTIN (Director); (NINA BALL (Set Design); HEATHER BASARAB (Lighting Design); ABIGAIL NESSEN BENGSON & SHAUN BENGSON (Music Directon); THEODORE J. H. HULSKER (Sound Designer); KATHERINE BICKFORD (Production Assistant); ANNE KENDALL (Technical Director); KATJA RIVERA (Assistant Director); DEVON LABELLE (Props Designer;) ASHLEY ROGERS (Wardrobe); CHRISTINE CROOK (Costume Designer); ELIZABETH HITCHCOCK-LISLE (Production Manager); HANAH ZAHNER-ISENBERG (Stage Manager & Acting Production Manager; PATRICK DOOLEY (Founding Artistic Director)
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com