Performed every day somewhere in the world, Our Town to me is the quintessential American play, is the play I have seen performed the most times in my life, and is the play that still moves me to tears each time I see it. I try not to miss a chance to see it performed, especially when done so by a group as consistently excellent and daring as Berkeley’s Shotgun Players.
From the moment our female Stage Manager (played masterfully by Madeline H.D. Brown) lights her pipe in the aisle and begins to introduce Grover’s Corners, it is evident that we will hear a story worth being retold yet again. She orchestrates this tale with a pace that honors the time we need to reflect as an audience about ‘our towns.’ The use of silence is strikingly powerful by her and by many of the actors in this production, allowing us to pause amongst our own memories spawned– of past productions we have seen and of past scenes we have lived in our own lives. The silences also allow the actors to communicate better than in just words their deep emotions, humor, and insights through slight twitches, head nods, eye movements, a hand or foot jerk, or just be being statuesquely still.
Like many productions of Our Town, this production’s audience becomes part of the townspeople, in this case facing each other in pews as if part of the local church congregation. We are even invited and encouraged to join in the weekly choir rehearsal. Part of the power and emotion of the play becomes seeing each other’s reactions, like my watching a man several times kissing his wheel-chaired companion at moments when it was clear he was moved to mirror expressions of love and tenderness portrayed on the bare stage between us.
This company is to a person well cast and is superbly directed (by Susannah Martin). Christopher White’s drunken choirmaster is the best Simon I have yet seen, and Josh Schell’s George Gibbs captures so well the key life moments of this pivotal part that I found my own heart aching for him and for all who have lived through similar moments of regret, love found, and love lost.
I cannot imagine a time in our future when Our Town of the early 20th Century will not feel contemporaneous to the lives and emotions of its audience. Certainly, this production has no problem translating into the 21st Century.
Rating: 5 E’s