History and literature often spotlight historical milestones, but miss the string of daily events that make a lifetime. Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Shorewood Players’ current production, shows the daily drama of life in the early parts of the last century. Through the play we find ordinary events have profound consequences, and they become woven into the fabric of a person, a family and a community.
The narrator of this 70 year-old Pulitzer Prize winner is normally seen in a starched collar and a period suit. In this production, the Stage Manager (Mark Lien) greets the audience in a fleece pullover and jeans, like your neighbor fresh from raking leaves. I found that it added freshness to a classic work. Lien’s interpretation was animated, making a solid connection to a 21st century audience. He is a tour guide, pointing out the gardens, homes, churches and hills of Grover’s Corners, which are only suggested through sparse sets, projected images, and mimed action. When he fills in as the druggist, the pastor, and several other roles, each has a distinctive character. The narrator also adds context and commentary of unseen events. My view is that the modern Stage Manager works very well, thanks to Lien’s fine acting.
The central relationship of the play is the courtship and marriage of Emily Webb and George Gibbs. Rachel Zembrowski and Shane Skinner are well paired as high school sweethearts stumbling into dating, and growing into married life. Skinner’s performance is subtle and well suited to the text. Zembrowski’s Emily is more emotional. She captures the energy of a young woman who is the brightest in her class, but once she recognizes George as her future husband, she nestles into a traditional role.
Emily and George’s parents are apt role models for the couple. As Mrs. Gibbs, Pattie Beem is convincing as she plucks an invisible bloom from her garden and plans ways to get her husband to take second honeymoon in Paris. Mrs. Webb is her confidant, and Enid Barnes is believable as a proper, reserved New England wife and mother. The role of Editor Webb gives an actor several opportunities to build the character, and Drew Martin uses them well. Richard Withers as Doc Gibbs inhabits the wise father figure, reminding George of his forgotten chores and making forgiveness within reach.
Dependable ensemble performances keep the movement of this fine timepiece ticking forward. Notables include Matt Zembrowski as troubled church organist Simon Stimson. He finds the humor in Simon’s fury with his imperfect choir, the confusion in his drunken wandering, finding no rest even in death.
If they drag on, the simple activities of Our Town could lead to dreadful boredom. Instead, the pacing of this production is quick, with scenes flowing one into another without missing a beat. The minimal set pieces move in and out silently while the action continues.
Director Reva Fox and the cast have delivered a simulating, impressive production. The production is a fundraiser for Gilda’s Club Southeastern Wisconsin, a supportive community for people touched by cancer. The performances are followed by brief presentations on the history of “Our Town” of Shorewood. The play continues through Sunday, January 24. For more information, visit www.shorewoodplayers.org or call 414-737-3421.
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