The Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town almost always makes it on the best-of lists of great theater, and for good reason; not only is it a well-written, touching play, it stands the test of time. In this fast-paced world, sometimes it’s nice to slow things down and visit Grover’s Corners – a small town in a simpler time – for an evening.
The play, which begins in 1901, is broken into three acts and narrated by the Stage Manager (Eric Washburn). In the first act, Daily Life, we learn about the town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire and meet the residents, specifically, the Gibbs and Webb families, who live next door to one another. Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs (Joseph Kelly, Susan Dantz) have a teenage son, George (Quinn Haley); Mr. and Mrs. Webb (Bill Shein, Amy Hausknecht) have a teenage daughter, Emily (Meaghan Rogers). In Act Two, Love and Marriage, three years have passed and it’s Emily and George’s wedding day; both of the young people are nervous about making the step into this next phase of their lives. In Act Three, Death and Eternity, nine years have passed and one of the main characters has died unexpectedly; we see the afterlife from their perspective.
This show relies on its performances, as it has very little in the way of sets or props (it’s performed on a bare stage with only a few set pieces, mainly chairs and a pair of ladders, and all props are mimed.) Director John Trainor has a large cast to corral here, and overall, has done quite a good job.
Washburn’s role is key; he follows in such famous footsteps as Hal Holbrook, Paul Newman, Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra, Helen Hunt and Michael Shannon, all of whom have taken on the mantle as, quite possibly, the theater’s most famous narrator at one point or another. Washburn plays the Stage Manager very simply and in a very low-key manner; he’s a kind, all-seeing, all-knowing Godlike creation, aware of the characters’ lives but doing his best not to get too involved. Rogers truly shines as Emily; for as many times as I’ve seen the show, she still brought tears to my eyes in Act Three. She has the perfect youthful energy for Emily as the show starts and manages to age herself wonderfully as the show progresses; she’s very believable and makes it very easy to get emotionally invested in her. Haley’s performance as George is lacking conviction – too much surface, not enough depth – and against such a strong Emily, his flaws were painfully evident.
Although the lives these characters are living is 118 years ago, it’s a beautiful thing to hear Thornton Wilder’s words resonate today as they would have when the play was first performed. Emily’s “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you” remains, simply, one of the loveliest lines in theater, and I’m so pleased that this show still has audiences willing to listen to its calm, quiet lessons all these years later.
“Our Town,” The Ghent Playhouse, 6 Town Hall Place, Ghent; through June 3; $22-$10; Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with a 15-minute and a 10-minute intermission; (518) 392-6264; http://www.ghentplayhouse.org/