OUR TOWNBy Thornton Wilder
Director - Matthew Gray
Stage Manager - Cathy O’Neal*
Assistant Stage Manager - Makinzy Springer*
Assistant Director - Elizabeth Stevens
Light and Sound Board - Kyle Ward
Costume Design - Aaron Patrick Declerk
Scenic Artist - Christina McCormick
J.R. Bradford - Howie Newsome/Sam Craig
Thomas Aiden Baughman+ - Wally Webb
Cooper Carter+ - Wally Webb
Javier Casanova**+ - Joe Crowell Jr./Si Crowell
Gigi Cervantes - Mrs. Gibbs
Tim D’Auteuil - Professor Willard/Man Among the Dead/Mr. Carter
Roger Drummond - Another Man Among the Dead
Julienne Greer* - Mrs. Webb
Lana K. Hoover - A Woman from Among the Dead/Lady in the Box/Mrs. Soames
Jim Jorgensen* - Dr. Gibbs
Tia Laulusa** - Emily Webb
Hayley Lenamon**+ - Rebecca Gibbs
Dennis Maher - Man in the Auditorium/Constable Warren/Joe Stoddard
Sam McCalla** - Simon Stimson
Illyena Metzger+ - Rebecca Gibbs
Kelsey Milbourn** - Stage Manager
Theodore Morris**+ - Joe Crowell Jr./Si Crowell
Jacob Oderberg** - George Gibbs
Steven Pounders* - Mr. Webb
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association
**Equity Membership Candidate
+Select Performances Double Cast
Reviewed Performance: 2/2/2019
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The play opened on Broadway in 1938 and over the decades has been through the dramatic wringer of revivals, and re-imaginings in every conceivable theatrical form: musical, opera, film—you name it. OUR TOWN is a warhorse in every sense of that word. It is metatheatre as conceived in the modern dramatic sense. The “fourth wall” does not exist. Characters speak directly to the audience and walk in and out of the audience as if the entire theatre is the set of the play and we observers are part of it. The actors may ask us questions or they may sit among us. This serves to draw the members of the audience further into the action and emotion of the play than the standard proscenium presentation of a show.
I hadn’t seen a production of OUR TOWN in many years (how did I miss it?) and hadn’t read it since college. But once exposed, I never forgot it. Even reading it created a significant emotional impression for me. The last scene of the play when Emily, now dead, wishes to return to experience just one day with the living again, moved me to tears. Seeing it played out on a stage later on pretty much wrecked me. I have often gone back to that scene in my mind and asked myself: Are you really allowing yourself to experience your life as you live it?” And that is one of the main themes of the play. I got it. I promise you. But here, some years down the road from that experience, I am now aware, that in order for that scene to have anything even close to that emotional impact on the audience, much of the burden falls on the actor portraying Emily, who has just died in childbirth and come to join the folks of Grover’s Corners now in the town cemetery. And that is a very difficult task for an actor. But, then, this play, seemingly SO simple in it’s telling, IS very difficult to do and I credit Circle Theatre and director Matthew Gray for taking it on. And, I have to remember as I write this that I had been asked to review this production, not the one I remembered, or the one remembered from television or even the road I would follow should I tackle the play as director.
First, I should mention this is an equity theatre that showcases actors who are members or candidates of Actor’s Equity. it is a company of very experienced, very talented actors. I did not see a single cast member not quite up to such a difficult show. I enjoyed it very much and so did the other members of the audience. Overall, it appeared that Gray steered away from over-sentimentalizing the play, which can certainly happen easily. I would like, however, to have been more emotionally stirred when Emily is taken to the cemetery and during her subsequent but short visit back among the living than I was. Emily was just a little too subdued for me there, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it wasn’t appropriate in its emotional content. In that scene Wilder wants to make a very important point and the responsibility for making it falls almost completely on Emily: “Life is short, sometimes very short and humans err in allowing their lives rush past without a thought of being-mindful or in the moment.” But again, perhaps a personal preference of mine.
The first character we meet is the Stage Manager, sometimes called The Narrator. And that is his or her task throughout—to fill the audience in on the other characters, their names, what they do, little “tidbits” about their lives. Here I ran into a puzzling situation. The Stage Manager certainly can be played by a female. Helen Hunt is one who has played the part. So, I could never discern why the Stage Manager in this production was obviously a female who was just as obviously impersonating a male. The only conclusion I could come to, and maybe this was reaching, was to underscore the point that gender didn’t matter for that role, the Stage Manager could just as easily been either male or female. But, he wasn’t. There was no dodging the fact that Kelsey Milbourn who played the part, was a female, a very attractive one, dressed as a man and assuming the walk, stance and gestures of a man. So, why not just let her be a female in the role of Stage Manager? There is also no question that Ms. Milbourn is an extremely talented actor who certainly made that character come alive. Her energy, her voice, the use of her physical instrument was superb. However, just a little bit too much. The Narrator is an older resident of the town. We assume that fact because he obviously knows many of the older folks who people the place and he is an ensconced part of the small town culture of Grover’s Corners. Hal Holbrook has played this role, and though I did not see the production, I can easily imagine how he could slide comfortably into that role, taking everything very easy, very laid back. That was not Mr. Gray’s or Ms. Melbourn’s approach and while she was, as I said, flawless in her interpretation, the over-the-topness finally took a toll on me as an audience member and dwarfed many of the other performers. The Stage Manager became out of place and I believe the author’s intention was that he be very much “in place”.
The actors who took on the roles of Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs, parents of Rebecca and George (Gigi Cervantes and Jim Jorgensen) and Mr. and Mrs. Webb, parents of Emily and Wally (Julienne Greer and Steven Pounders), were spot on. Each of the four was unique in their interpretation of their role, full of energy and so believable as the tired doctor, the harried mothers, and the world- weary editor of the town newspaper. You saw the townspeople in them. Their families were the microcosm of the entirety of Grover’s Corners.
Jacob Oderberg as George Gibbs captured the immature youth as well as the mature, grieving husband, a tough transition for an actor to make with little in the way of scenes and dialogue to traverse that transition. His innocence as he realizes his love for Emily and his momentary terror at the imminent prospect of marriage were conveyed beautifully through body, voice and emotion.
His counterpart, Tia Laulusa, as Emilly Webb, was also engaging as the sweet, young Emily who bluntly confront George with his fault of pride. In my opinion, she faltered only in that last scene, where I believe Wilder wanted us all to feel as if we were participating in a sad, bittersweet moment wished for but never more available to us.
The other cast members took on small roles and sometimes dual roles, and became totally believable as members of a small New Hampshire community/ensemble reminiscent of the early 1900’s. Altogether the cast knitted their characters together seamlessly for a charming evening of entertainment. I want to give special notice to all regarding their use of pantomime in recreating the daily lives of the characters without the use of props, which would only interfere with understanding and aren’t typically used in productions of this play. But special kudos to the two mothers: I could follow perfectly your performances of household chores via your mime. Well done!
This historical piece of literary greatness is worthy of a trip to Downtown Ft. Worth to the Circle Theatre’s production. Thanks, Circle, for making this opportunity come to life!
230 W. 4th St.
Ft. Worth, TX 76102
Plays January 31st through March 9, 2019
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m
Saturday matinee at 3 p.m.
Tickets: Call 817-877-3040