|Take a Walk on the Wilder Side: "Our Town," at the District Theatre through February 9|
|Theatre - Reviews|
|Written by Thom White|
|Monday, 27 January 2014 06:00|
Director Bryan Tank’s production of Our Town fits the District Theatre’s stage like a glove. Or rather, I should say Tank uses the stage so well – especially in his placement of actors and set pieces – that this play seems a perfect fit for the space. With its beautiful employment of backlighting (particularly when we first see the characters grouped together) and set designer/co-star Chris Causer’s large, white pieces of fabric stretched over and draped across the back wall of the stage – and covering set pieces until they're being used – this production, aesthetically speaking, is breathtaking in its simplicity.
As for the cast, they exude a joy that permeates every moment of this presentation of Thornton Wilder’s classic about a small New Hampshire town at the start of the 20th Century. This joy goes hand-in-hand with the purity and innocence with which the actors present the material, matching the stereotypical sense of “good ol’ days” associated with decades past. This sensibility is predominantly present in Shelley Walljasper’s Stage Manager due to her congenial, welcoming nature and slightly folksy air. Her character takes great delight in sharing the story of Grovers Corners’ townspeople, inviting the audience in so thoroughly that, given how gladly received I felt, I wanted to walk up to her and give her a hug.
The perceived purity of Our Town's era is also evident in Kelly Lohrenz’s virtuous Emily Webb and Causer’s guileless George Gibbs, especially in their scenes of romantic interest. There’s no darkness in their characters and the love they share through their on-stage chemistry seems perfectly untainted, and is all the more lovely for it. Lohrenz's and Causer's relationship renders the climax of the play palpably stirring and deepens its sense of loss, given that Emily's and George's love seems one deserving to last forever.
There’s plenty of humor in Tank’s production, as well. Mark Ruebling’s Professor Willard, providing the history and demographics of the town early on, seems so over-eager to share his knowledge that his passion makes him somewhat bumbling; he's clearly, and comically, in a rush to share what he knows. Heidi Pedersen drew quite a few laughs during Saturday’s performance for her gossipy, slightly eccentric Mrs. Soames’ repeated statements of pleasure over George's and Emily's wedding ceremony. It only required a blend of annoyance and resignation in Chris Tracy’s eyes to elicit chuckles when his Mr. Webb was left alone with his soon-to-be son-in-law at the breakfast table. Mike Kelly’s Simon Stimson proves enjoyable for his drunken sullenness and sarcasm and boisterous frustration with the church choir. And there’s also a subtly hilarious moment I particularly enjoyed in which George mentions that he can see Emily in her room from his window, and Lohrenz delivers her line of acknowledgment in a creeped-out tone.
It was also great to see two of my favorite local actresses share the stage, with Jacqueline Madunic playing the happily fulfilled, doting Mrs. Gibbs, and Angela Elliott as the always-busy, no-guff-taking Mrs. Webb. Jerry Wolking, meanwhile, brings a stalwart air to Dr. Gibbs, while Krianna Walljasper shows true moxie in her role as George's younger sister Rebecca. With every Our Town performer seeming to be spot-on in terms of each actor’s choices, I couldn’t ask for Tank’s production to be more charming, a quality well-suited to this classic play.
Our Town runs at the District Theatre (1611 Second Avenue, Rock Island) through February 9, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)235-1654 or visiting DistrictTheatre.com.
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