Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Our Town (2008)

Our Town is the first 20th century play to be produced on the Elizabethan Stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Given this year’s production, I’d say it’s a safe bet to expect more. This well-acted production takes no “chances” with the source material, Thornton Wilder’s 1930’s play, and contents itself with giving us the play as it was intended.

That’s fine by me. With Anthony Heald ably conducting our tour of Grover’s Corners as the Stage Manager, we get a fine and nuanced performance by the OSF company. As George Gibbs, Todd Bjurstrom is actually quite affecting – it’s a role that can be dreadfully earnest, but Mr. Bjurstrom plays George as he is: a callow young man, yes, but a regular one because of it. He’s in his second season now, and I’d expect him to be here for the long haul assuming that’s what he wants. Mahira Kakkar, as Emily Webb, is almost disturbingly young in her role. She isn’t, and clearly it’s a conscious decision to emphasize her youth, for her appearance in the graveyard in Act III is shocking. In all, that play is well-cast and flows without that horrible “ew really?” feeling that you sometimes get when an actor just doesn’t suit you. I’m absolutely not talking about the Queen of the Amazons in last year’s Midsummer. Nope, absolutely not.

The production is spare, as per the original instructions from Mr. Wilder. There are some nice touches with costumes, particularly in Act III, and there’s a recurring bit of action where the company provides sound effects – the slap of a newspaper hitting a porch, a rooster crowing, that sort of thing. Once in awhile it’s played for laughs, but mostly it’s just a nice touch of ambiance. A particularly favorite effect for me, which will only last during the summer, is that the sun goes down just about in time with the mood of the play. It started with a bit of sunlight still in the sky, and the stars were in full bloom when the Stage Manager bid us “good night”.

A note about the play itself. Some folks have seen Our Town as boring at first (and some have forever, I guess). I get that it’s deliberately paced, and there’s not much in the way of action, but that’s not the point. It’s an examination of life in a small town in those days. I almost wonder if there’s a city mouse / country mouse effect at work. In any case, the picture that is painted of small town life is anything but rosy, and I think there’s real food for thought. “One in a thousand is interesting,” indeed.

Congratulations to director Chay Yew and his entire staff and company for a rewarding production. Our Town really was a perfect choice for a breakthrough performance in the Allen Pavilion.