MainStage Irving-Las Colinas
Director – Bruce R. Coleman
Scenic Design – Bruce R. Coleman
Costume Design – Suzi Cranford, Dallas Costume Shoppe
Lighting Design – Sam Nance
Sound Design – Richard Frohlich
Set Dressing – Jo Anne Hull
Stage Manager – Tom Ortiz
Stage Manager – Ken Orman
Dr. Gibbs – Daniel Morrow
Joe Crowell – Chet Monday
Howie Newsome – David M. Hartley
Mrs. Gibbs – Sheila D. Rose
Mrs. Webb – Cathy Parks Bardin
George Gibbs – Michael McCray
Rebecca Gibbs – Lily Monday
Wally Webb – Sam Ward
Emily Webb – Kaycee Reininger
Professor Willard – William Kledas
Mr. Webb – Andrew Kasten
Simon Stimson – William Kledas
Mrs. Soames – Mary Bongfeldt
Constable Warren – David Smith
Si Crowell – Chet Monday
Sam Craig – David M. Hartley
Joe Stoddard – David Smith
People of the Town – Nancy Lamb, Diane Powell, Bob Shapiro, Drew Smith
Guitar Player – Charles Wallace
Banjo/Keyboard Player – Ian Wallace
Reviewed Performance 11/2/2013
Reviewed by Kristy Blackmon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
First performed in 1938, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town demonstrates a modernist, minimal and metatheatrical style that reflects a shift in American community identity during the interwar years. The play presents universal themes that audiences can readily relate to and the character of the Stage Manager, acting as narrator, breaks the fourth wall to draw viewers even more into the action and emotion of the characters. Our Town won Wilder his second Pulitzer Prize, and a revival in 1989 garnered both a Drama Desk Award and a Tony for Best Revival.
Irving Community Theater’s production of Our Town wisely refrains deviating from Wilder’s original stylistic intentions. The themes the play examines are powerful, simultaneously direct and complex, and Bruce R. Coleman’s direction ensures minimal technical distractions from Wilder’s overarching message. Written in a time of cultural confusion and upheaval, Our Town shows the conflict between tradition and modernity that arose in the wake of World War I and the Great Depression – a conflict that is just as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.
The play depicts the lives of several residents in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire at the turn of the century. Like the original production, Coleman keeps the set to a bare minimum. Simple wooden tables and chairs are manipulated to portray the different scenes, and the cast members mime the use of non-existent props. There is nothing to detract from the characters or distract the audience from building a connection with them, which is vital to the success of this show. Working with Lighting Designer Sam Nance, Coleman uses a simple projection of the sky above the town to portray the time of day and to reflect the mood being presented on stage. Far from being stark, the effect is one of homespun simplicity that exemplifies the nature of Grover’s Corners itself.
Among the technical elements, the costumes, provided by Suzi Cranford of Dallas Costume Shoppe, stand out. Period appropriate and high-quality, they by and large do not draw attention to themselves but instead add to our interpretation of the time and characters. The one exception to this rule is the ingénue’s wedding dress, which is spectacular.
The show opens with show musicians Charles and Ian Wallace picking at a guitar and banjo, respectively, as our narrator begins to lay the foundation that technical elements such as sets and lighting typically provide. Ken Orman as the Stage Manager does a beautiful job in this demanding role which requires moments of comedy and gravitas that are subtle enough to complement the action on the stage instead of draw focus from it.
Orman’s mild, congenial manner allows his character to challenge both the audience and the characters without causing affront. The Stage Manager pokes gentle fun at small-town life, yet never lets us forget that it is no more or less important than life in more modern, metropolitan cities. Orman brings a Neil Patrick Harris type feel to this role, lending just a touch of adorableness to the authority the part must command. He jests with the characters and audience alike, but his jokes carry pointed meaning that never gets lost. With a well-timed pause or lifted eyebrow, he conveys the central message of Our Town: that life consists of the same basic questions and emotional experiences for all of us. We bear and raise children. We dream big dreams and yet find comfort in our small lives. We grow up, fall in love, and fear the unknown with no more wisdom than the simple residents of Grover’s Corners. Orman presents all of these huge and universal themes with gentleness and without guile, all the while keeping the lives and storylines of the characters and the town straight and easy for the audience to follow.
The plot uses the characters of George Gibbs and Emily Webb as vehicles to explore many of the issues Wilder wanted to address, following them over the course of fifteen years from childhood to married couple. Michael McCray as George and Kaycee Reininger as Emily are sweet without crossing the line into saccharine territory.
Reininger does an especially good job at portraying the dreamy-eyed state of adolescence. When she stares at the moon out the window of her parents’ house while action is being portrayed downstage, she commands almost equal attention as those engaged in the central dialogue. Looking at her, it’s easy to remember the dreams we had when we were starry-eyed teenagers. Meanwhile, McCray reminds us of how it feels to face the terrors of growing up and come through the other side as an adult. He waffles between scared adolescent and confident man during Act II. His transitions some a little abrupt in those scenes between childhood and adulthood, but he manages to maintain control over his performance, and the pair work well together. Their earnestness feels somewhat out of place in the final act of the play, when they’re exploring opposing sides of death and loss, but otherwise the two give solid performances.
Like the restrained technical elements, the supporting cast contributes to the successful overall feel of the show without drawing too much attention to themselves. Daniel Morrow and Sheila D. Rose as Doc and Mrs. Gibbs, and Andrew Kasten and Cathy Parks Bardin as Mr. and Mrs. Webb, portray the frustrations and joys of parenthood very well. Through George’s and Emily’s parents, we see the sacrifices made for the sake of the family. They show us all of the conflicts inherent in parenthood: the way in which disappointment and pride can occupy the same space, the most intimate moments between parent and child can also be the most awkward, and love can be delivered with a rebuke in one breath and a handkerchief and a few words of love in the next.
William Kledas delivers two of the most effective supporting performances of the evening. As Professor Willard, the rambling and endearingly nerdy academic who lectures the audience on the history of Grover’s Corners, Kledas displays a knack for comedic timing and subtle yet memorable characteristics that leave the audience chuckling. As Simon Stimson, the troubled choirmaster and the town drunk, he has the opportunity to explore a darker and more tortured character. He is dark and brooding as he barks at the other characters, a nice contrast to his performance as the professor. The character of Stimson as played by Kledas remains another reminder that life is full of contradictions and nothing is simple.
Mary Bongfeldt deserves a nod of recognition for her very funny turn as the loveable and dotty old Mrs. Soames, who even in death remembers just how lovely George and Emily’s wedding was.
The mark of a good ensemble is that it forms a larger whole that becomes a character all of its own. The residents of Grover’s Corners together give the town its own character, and while we may remember a funny or sad moment here and there, in the end we are left with an impression of a town in which we’ve fallen in love. At the play’s end, when the idealism of youth has faded and we are left to experience the hollowness that comes with contemplating death and eternity, the ensemble comes together to portray one front of heartbreaking numbness. Coleman’s direction of the supporting characters is spot on.
Though it may lack the show-stopping elements that larger productions use to draw in audiences, Our Town is another artistic hit for MainStage.
Irving Arts Center
3333 N. MacArthur
Irving, TX 75062
Runs through November 16th
Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 2:30 pm. An additional performance is added for Thursday, November 14th at 8:00 pm.
Tickets are $21.00, student and senior tickets are $19.00.
For tickets and information go to: http://www.irvingtheatre.org or call their box office at 972-594-6104.