In the suburbs / Performance shows best of 'Our Town"™
Published 10:33 am, Thursday, December 9, 2010
"We are always in a hurry, when the most important moment is truly the one that we are experiencing right now. `Our Town' reminds us to appreciate the present while we realize what we already know: that something is eternal. Thornton Wilder expressed that sense of the eternal by using pantomime and minimal sets to replace real objects because we knew that within our minds, hearts and imaginations, the real truth exists," reads the director's note in the program by Frances R. Kondziela, the artistic director of the Fairfield Ludlowe High School Drama Club.
The theater is dark, except for a soft light center stage.
Enter Terrance Edwards as the Stage Manager in Fairfield Ludlowe High School Drama Club's powerful production of Thorton Wilder's "Our Town," who sweeps us away to the little town of Grover's Corners, N.H., circa 1900. Edwards, whose masterful performance could be likened to the chorus in a Greek tragedy, brought the characters in town to life and in three acts gave us snippets day-to-day living, love and marriage and death.
As the lights come up, our Stage Manager previews a regular day in the lives of two families -- the Gibbs and the Webbs -- who live next door to each other in Grover's Corners. The audience must really use its imagination because there are no props other than tables and chairs and a garden trellis in each front yard. I found that I needed to visualize and listen to the characters' words or I'd miss a key phrase or line.
Mrs. Gibbs, portrayed beautifully by Tricia Sorresso, is the perfect Grover's Corners wife and mother. While the Stage Manager tells us that Ms. Gibbs will actually die during a trip to Ohio, on this day, she is bustling around the house, pantomiming the fixing of breakfast and the morning coffee for her husband; hustling her two children, George (Luke Baker) and Rebecca (Cassie Carroll) down for their meal and off to school. At this moment in time, for Mrs. Gibbs, this is enough activity.
Her husband, Dr. Gibbs, played by Steve Autore, whom I've enjoyed in "The Music Man" and "To Kill a Mockingbird," has had a long night, delivering twins in "Polish Town." Mrs. Gibbs pours the doctor a cup of coffee, interrogates warmly about his long night and urges him to rest. Dr. Gibbs comes across as a man of few words and some warmth, and hardly an emotional guy. But he finally acquiesces to his wife's coaxing and goes off to bed while she bustles outside to get her milk and greet her neighbor, Mrs. Webb.
The Webb family is not much different from the Gibbs family with Mrs. Webb, Miriam Goldfield, a warm and energetic mom getting her children, Emily, Allison Benko -- so real, so delightful - and Wally, James Purcell, who comes across as full of mischief and energy; ready for school.
Mr. Webb, portrayed by Grey Walker, did a masterful job as a newspaper man. Despite his involvement in the lives of Grover's Corners citizens, Mr. Webb still comes across as somewhat detached and not really emotional.
Act I also introduces us through the stage manager to the church choir director Simon Stimson, played beautifully by Charley Fay. The Stage Manager tells us that Mr. Stimson is a troubled soul with problems and alludes to a sad end for the church choir director.
As we move into Act II, Love and Marriage, the Stage Manager sets the stage for the growing closeness between Emily, who remains torn between her need to be an ordinary teenager with no responsibilities, and George, who wants to be the knight in shining armor. The Stage Manager dismisses all of this as typical of the young people in Grover's Corners and how most marry just out of high school.
And so, as they sip sodas at the corner drugstore, George suddenly realizes that he wants to marry Emily and take care of her. She accepts his request and we are quickly taken to the front of the church on their wedding day.
My wife and I were touched by the emotional impact that George and Emily's commitment had on them. In a beautifully choreographed scene, George, looking as dapper and as shell shocked as any young teen would on his wedding day, shares with Mother Gibbs that he's scared and worried about his new responsibility. His mother, in typical small-town fashion and worried that he'll embarrass everyone, takes a hard line with George and tells him to buck up. Doc Gibbs seems conveniently absent.
Then in one of the most touching moments of the play, Emily, clearly petrified of having to go home forever with the boy next door and feeling so alone, begs her father to take her away where she can cook for him and keep house. At that moment, Emily has finally realized that she has thrown away her young woman's dreams and must prepare to be a wife and eventually a mother.
As the second act closes, the Stage Manager reminds us once more that weddings like this are simply part of the cycle of life in Grover's Corners. Children, barely out of high school and totally unprepared, marry and assume the roles of their parents.
As the lights come up somewhat dimly on Act III -- Death -- about 14 years have passed and we see several tombstones, which are soon occupied by some familiar faces, including Mother Gibbs, Emily's brother Wally and Simon Stimson. Our Stage Manager explains that there have been many losses in Grover's Corners. He makes a particularly powerful statement about the importance of the dead letting go of things they knew and remembered so they can move forward.
Then our eyes are drawn to an empty tombstone and two characters, who are talking before the funeral party arrives. They speak in hushed tones about the young woman who died in childbirth. Minutes later, when the family arrives, we know that this is Emily's funeral. Life has ended for Emily, who barely experienced it and now has died. As Emily reflects on what is happening around her, she begs the Stage Manager, who seems to have become a spiritual being, for the chance to relive just one day. When he agrees, Mother Gibbs quietly warns Emily to not choose a happy day because it will be harder for her to return.
Emily selects her 15th birthday and, while her family acknowledges her, they seem too preoccupied with their own lives to pay attention to her. She realizes that this place is really not where she belongs and begs to return to the cemetery on the hill. As her grief-stricken husband George arrives and Emily is allowed a last look, she reaches for George and speaks the most memorable line in the play -- "Oh earth, you are too beautiful for anyone to realize you."
"Our Town" was truly another theatrical triumph for the Fairfield Ludlowe High School Drama Club. Kudos to an amazing and hard-working cast and crew and to the dynamic artistic director that inspires them -- Ms. K.
Steve Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.