Our Town

Written on May 23rd, 2016

Were the Good Old Days ever that Good?

Our Town is an actor’s play.  With the ghost light (a bare bulb on a floor lamp) shining in the middle of the stage as we enter the theatre, the audience hopes that some back stage secrets may be revealed.  Instead, we are taken on a nostalgia trip, which starts as a pleasant journey, but ends up giving us a nasty reality check.

Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, now at the Shaw Festival’s Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, lets the stage manager be the narrator.  He takes us back to the fictional idyllic town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire in the early 1900s.

We meet the Webbs and the Gibbs, two families living next door to each other.  Dr. Gibbs is the town physician, while Mr. Webb is the local newspaper editor.   Each has a wife, a son and a daughter:  Perfect families where the mothers cook and sing in the church choir, and their milk is delivered to their door by a horse-drawn wagon.

In act two, George Gibbs and Emily Webb, both 17 year olds, decide to get married, and we get a brief flashback to the day they realized they would have a future together.  Again, despite their young age, all is picture-perfect.  But in act three, we visit the town cemetery. That’s where we learn the good old days weren’t that good, and our warm, nostalgic feelings are dashed.

Director Molly Smith has created an emotional journey, using all the best features of this long-time theatre favourite.  She makes us long for what appears to be the simple life, then reminds us that death can be just around the corner – whether you’re a young man in World War I, or a boy with appendicitis, or young woman giving birth. Our Town

Benedict Campbell is the perfect stage manager leading us on this trip.  He fills in the plot and makes the sparse scenery come to life with his words.  Patrick Galligan as Dr. Gibbs and Patrick McManus as Mr. Webb are both fathers we recognize.  Charlie Gallant is perfect as the earnest young George Gibbs and Kate Besworth is excellent as the strong Emily Webb.  Their scene at the soda fountain is touching and heart-warming.  The rest of the cast creates a town filled with familiar faces and stories not very different from those where our grandparents and parents grew up.

The sparse, white set is perfect for Our Town.  As usual in this play, there are no props, and the cast mimes eating or carrying things.  In an interesting twist, sound effects have been added.  For example, when Mrs. Gibbs turns the tap, we hear water running.  Then, suddenly, in the final act where there’s a flashback, props – dishes, food, milk bottles – are evident.

As Dr. Gibbs tells Mrs. Gibbs, in a comment that foreshadows the final act, “Everybody has a right to their own troubles.” That becomes evident as the story ends, and I was reaching for my Kleenex.

This poignant production of Our Town is well worth the trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which I’m sure is not so different from Grover’s Corners.

Our Town continues in repertoire at The Shaw Festival, Niagara on the Lake until October 15.  For tickets, visit www.shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-7429.

Photo:  Emily (Kate Besworth) and George (Charlie Gallant) – the wedding in Our Town.  Photo by David Cooper.

Our Town
By Thornton Wilder
Directed by Molly Smith
Performed by Benedict Campbell, Patrick Galligan, Catherine McGregor, Patrick McManus, Jenny L. Wright, Charlie Gallant and Kate Besworth et al.
Shaw Festival, Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
April 9 to October 15, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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