By George Spelvin
“Our Town” is considered one of the most widely known plays written by an American author and Thornton Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize for his effort. It is also known for the way it is traditionally staged with a bare set, a few chairs and tables and ladders to represent the locations. Actors also pantomime many of the props. Fairmont State’s production, directed by Jeffrey H. Ingman, remains true to that tradition and adds a lyrical quality to the staging which makes the play even more engaging.
Mr. Ingman has a talented ensemble cast to work with which reinforces the thematic elements of the play. After all, its title is “Our Town” not “My Town.” That shifting of focus from individuals heightens the universality of the play. Our town is Grovers Corners, New Hampshire, early in the 20th century covering the years between 1901 and 1913. It is divided into three acts appropriately called “Daily Life,” “Love and Marriage,” and “Eternity.”
The beauty of the play is its focus on everyday life. While we don’t necessarily have to chop wood or feed the chickens every day, the characters in “Our Town” go through their days, day after day, setting up a rhythm that is about life in general. It’s this rhythm that Mr. Ingman has chosen to enhance through the staging further emphasizing the play’s universality. Bare stage does not mean there’s nothing to look at. The costumes, designed by Rebekah Watson and Linda O’Connor, are very attractive and the lighting, designed by Troy Snyder, is quite handsome reinforcing the various moods of the scenes and in several cases underlining the descriptions spoken by the characters. The audience is connected to the play through the character of the Stage Manager who addresses the audience directly as well
as the characters in the play. Played by Brad Six and serving as a voice for the playwright, the Stage Manager has several gems which resonate today, some with added significance, “People are meant to go through life two by two. ‘Tain’t natural to be lonesome.” He also advises George and Emily, played by James Wilson and Loralee Simpson, “My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it is on your plate.”
Lines like “Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning,” ring as true today as they might have when the play was written or in the time of its story. The final act, “Eternity,” belongs to Emily as she bridges the land of the dead and the living. She provides a summary for the play, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?” To which the Stage Manager replies, “No. Saints and poets maybe . . . they do some.”
This is a play and a production that should not be missed.
“Our Town” continues this week in Wallman Hall Theatre on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 with an additional Saturday performance at 3:00. Tickets for reserved seats at $13.00 each may be obtained by calling the box office at (304) 367-4240. Fairmont and Pierpont students can get one free ticket by presenting their student ID.