Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, written in 1938 and now showing at Miners Alley, is a gently dated play that tells the story of life in the fictional small town of Grover’s Corners. Here the women spend their days cooking, cleaning, pegging clothes on the line and watching over their children while the men go off to work. The boys play sports at school; the girls — at least the one at the center of the action, Emily — are more studious. Milk is delivered by a horse-drawn cart. There’s a self-destructive town drunk, and as the action progresses, we watch a couple of teenagers fall in love and get married. But there’s another dimension to Our Town, a far vaster one, as the characters move through their lives dealing with love, time and mortality, and learning the beauty and blessedness of ordinary, everyday life.
The play’s structure was daring for its time. As the author intended, director Len Matheo’s version takes place on a minimally furnished stage with the actors miming their actions rather than being provided with props. The fourth wall is non-existent. The Stage Manager, played by the affable Jim Hunt, talks directly to the audience, periodically turning to signal a next move to an actor or otherwise help the action along; he sometimes takes on a role himself. The other actors may cluster in the aisles of the theater between scenes, chatting quietly with each other. When Emily (Hannah Haller brings freshness and charm to the role) and her George (the lithe and springing Laurence Katz) discuss homework and perhaps feel the first stirring of attraction, they’re on opposing sides of the auditorium, seated slightly above but among us. We’re not being asked to suspend disbelief here: We know what we’re watching is an artifact that will be created anew each night.
The acting overall is convincing, with Lisa DeCaro as George’s kindly mother, Mrs. Gibbs, and Shauna Earp as the sharper and stricter Mrs. Webb, Emily’s mother. Rory Pierce and Josh Hartwell do well as Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Webb, respectively. And there’s a shining moment as George’s little sister Rebecca, played by a glowing Ella Matheo, recites perhaps the best-known speech in the play, the address on a letter from the minister to a sick parishioner: “Jane Crofut; the Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe, the Mind of God.”
This address, along with a lesson in archeology from a ponderous professor of archeology (played by Tim Fishbaugh), illuminates Wilder’s intention of giving these humble Grover's Corners' lives a universal context: historical, evolutionary, planetary and spiritual.
The seating for the production is in the round — or as in the round as the theater’s compact confines allow. There are two rows of chairs behind the stage, as well as chairs on both sides. This configuration has both strengths and weaknesses: It makes the space tighter and the playing area less deep and far more horizontal. The Gibbs family occupies a platform with a table and chairs on one side, while Emily’s folks have a platform on the other. Everything else occurs in the space between. But it’s awkward swiveling your head from side to side, and where I sat, the view of anyone at the Webb table was blocked by a thick pillar.
The staging does add conceptual depth and dimension, however, as you periodically glimpse the rapt expressions of audience members seated directly across from you, or imagine them among the rows of the dead in the final graveyard scene. Two women seated opposite me — a young woman with another who appeared to be her grandmother — in some ways seemed to exemplify the vision of the script: its beauty and love, the poignant sense of time passing. As they leaned together and the older woman’s arm circled the back of the younger one’s chair, I thought I sensed currents of thought, feeling and profound mutual understanding moving silently between them.
Our Town, presented by Miners Alley through April 28, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, 303-935-3044, minersalley.com.
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