Ordinary Life is Extraordinary at Rep’s “Our Town”

DiMonte Henning and Cher Desiree Alvarez in “Our Town at The Rep.

It happens in barely a blink of an eye.

The Rep turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, the common to the sublime and the routine into the rare in the spectacular “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder’s penetrating exam of life in the middle lane.

From the earliest moments on a stage, primarily empty save for an erratic stack of chairs and several wooden porches perched atop a string of steps, the song “Something’s Coming” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” ran through my mind.

“Will it be, yes it will
Maybe just by holding still
It’ll be there
Come on, something
Come on in
Don’t be shy
Meet a guy
Pull up a chair
The air is humming
And something great is coming”

Mr. Wilder won a Pulitzer Prize for this remarkable little play in 1938 and in his notes Director Brent Hazelton remarks about the popular belief that not a day has gone by that this play is not being produced somewhere on earth.

And who could doubt it, as it is such a simple play to produce, with big casts, a minimal set and virtually no physical drama. It’s people talking

It is just like life.

And that realism is the thing that slowly wraps its arms around you and gives you a hug and promises warmth and comfort for a couple of hours.

Everything gets underway when the Stage Manager (an impeccable Laura Gordon) enters and pulls a street light off the stage, returns and graces all of us with her glorious and honest smile.

There is no fourth wall here. It is just her and all of us.

This play is called “Our Town.It was written  by Thornton Wilder; It’s directed by Brent Hazelton. The name of the town is Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire., just across the Massachusetts line: latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees 37 minutes. The First Act shows a day in our town. The day is May 7, 1901. The titne is just before dawn . The sky is beginning to show some streaks of light over in the East there, behind our mountain. The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go doesn’t it?”

As we collectively nod our heads to answer her question we are off and strolling through Wilder’s humane and delicate look at the circle of life.”

In three acts we go from birth to life to death and all the little things that make up all of it. For Wilder life is a series of moments, decisions we make – big and small – that carve the pathway to where we are going.

The main characters in this story are two families,  Doctor Gibbs (Chiké Johnson), his wife (Elizabeth Ledo) and their teenage son George (DiMonte Hening and Mr. Webb (Matt Zambrano), his wife (R´åna Roman) and their daughter Emily (Cher Desiree Alvarez).

Dr. Gibbs is of the overworked town doctor whose wife wants him to take some time off as she runs the family with a well structured routine. Mr. Webb runs the town newspaper and is a keen observer of life in Grover’s Corners.”

Each of the characters in this play have their moments during the courtship of both George and Emily and how normal and natural it seems, despite small misgivings from family and shaky uncertainties by the two lovers.

It’s left to Mrs. Gibbs to sum up the entire normalcy of both the impending wedding and, perhaps the constant of life in her town.

“Yes, people are meant to go through life two by two. ‘Tain’t natural to be lonesome.”

For all it’s superficial simplicity, “Our Town” is a complex show to stage.

Hazelton, and his designers and actors, tackle all of those complexities with aplomb and a remarkable creative spirit that shows in every detail on display. Like life itself, it’s the little things that make this production so special, like the Foley effects of sound designer Barry G. Funderburg that gave us the squeak of a door and the patter of rain on the roof. 

The director found the dark corners of our world, corners that we hide in the simple avoidance of life. Just talk about the mundane and none of these characters ever has to face a reality far harsher than anyone is willing to recognize.

Ms. Gordon is a spectacular actor and she is joined on this stage by a panorama of stars from Wisconsin who have all taken on small roles in service of the play – James PIckering, Carrie Hitchcock, Jonathan Smoots, Jonathan Wainwright and a heartbreaking James Ridge as the town’s drunken choir director.

Mr. Wilder wrote this play that asks  all of us to examine our own lives for the little things we do that make the big things keep their distance. It’s a marvelous achievement that Hazelton and The Rep have staged marvelously.

PRODUCTION CREDITS: Director, Brent Hazelton; Scenic Designer, Scott Davis; Costume Designer, Rachel Laritz; Lighting Designer, Noele Stollmack; Sound Designer, Barry G. Funderburg; Music Director, Dan Kazemi; Casting Director Frank Honts; Stage Manager Kimberly Carolus.

 

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About davebegel@gmail.com

Theater Critic in Milwaukee.
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