Story: In this play within a play, it’s 1938 as the Stage Manager welcomes the audience to the theater. He tells us that in the show that’s about to begin, it’s early morning on a bright day in 1901 in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. He says that there will be three brief acts to be performed in the play, titled Daily Life, Love and Marriage, and Death and Eternity.
He introduces us to the people of Grover’s Corners, including physician Doc Gibbs and his neighbor Charles Webb, editor of the semi-weekly newspaper, the Grover’s Corners Sentinel. Gibbs and his wife Julia have two children, a teen-age son George and his younger sister Rebecca, while next-door neighbors Charles and Myrtle Webb are parents of teen daughter Emily and her younger brother Wally.
Joe Crowell delivers the morning paper, Howie Newsome drops off milk not long after sunrise and Simon Stimson, the choir director and church organist, is customarily surly and drunk. The Stage Manager asks local historian Professor Willard to give the audience a bit of the history of Grover’s Corners, which was founded in the 17th century.
Three years later George and Emily wed, even though at the last minute each has serious reservations about going through with it. Now a high school graduate, George decides against attending college in order to help farm his uncle’s land.
In Act Three, set in 1913, the Stage Manager takes us to the local cemetery, where plots going back hundreds of years are situated. There’s a recent tombstone with the name of Emily Gibbs on it, who passed away while giving birth to her and George’s second child. We also learn about other characters who now are buried at the nearby cemetery.
It’s life and death in small-town America. The Stage Manager hopes only that people appreciate life’s beautiful moments as much as possible in Grover’s Corners and elsewhere.
Highlights: John Contini’s warm and welcoming portrayal of the Stage Manager anchors Ozark Actors’ Theatre’s charming adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s enduring, heartfelt drama under the careful guidance of director Matt Saltzberg.
Other Info: Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938 for this deceptively simple but resonating work, which strives to tell its tale in a relaxed, welcoming and straightforward style. It paints a loving portrait of the kindness and mutual respect which bind the residents of a New England community at the turn of the 20th century.
Jared Shofstall’s scenic design adheres to Wilder’s instructions for a minimal set, with a pair of scaffolds at either end of the stage to serve as the homes of the Webbs and the Gibbs, or a series of chairs in Act Three where ‘bodies’ in the cemetery are located. Angela Duggins contributes props to the look.
James Davis lights everything effectively, alternating the illumination for various points in the day, and Jenna Gove’s costumes reflect the modest and proper attire of the era. The amusing sound design, including Contini knocking coconut shells for the sound of Howie’s horse, is courtesy of Caisha Steffanie Elizabeth. Titus Kautz adds the gentle music direction.
Contini conveys the wisdom and genial, loving nature of the Stage Manager in his easy-going but meticulously crafted portrayal, frequently bantering with the audience while also commenting on the action taking place among characters on the stage.
Saltzberg additionally coaxes fine performances from Quinn Cason as the savvy newspaper editor and attentive father Charles Webb, and Pauline Parkhurst as Mrs. Webb, who has an all-knowing presence in the Webb household and with her children.
Carolina Queirroz Couto shines as the blossoming Emily Webb, who does indeed love the boy next door, especially in a flashback scene in the second act, while Christian Boyd brings energy and enthusiasm to the role of George.
Nathan Haltiwanger is fine as Doc Gibbs, even if he looks far too young for the role, and Brianna Justine capably portrays Mrs. Gibbs. The cast also features nice turns by Hannah Geisz as Rebecca and Martha Dinsdale as town busybody Mrs. Soames.
OAT artistic director A.S. Freeman brings a quiet warmth and understanding to the role of Sam Craig, who returns from Buffalo after a dozen years to attend the funeral of his cousin Emily. Titus Kautz portrays a young baseball player disappointed that George’s talents on the diamond will go to waste after his marriage.
Jackson Buhr does well in dual roles as the affable Howie and the surly Stimson, while Anna Benoit nicely handles the parts of meandering Professor Willard and Constable Warren. Colin Stansky appears as the sharp-minded Joe Crowell, a paperboy whose intellect and potential met an abrupt end in World War I, as well as Joe’s brother Si and Wally Webb.
Wilder’s wise and time-honored drama continues to resonate with its universal qualities even today, as evidenced in Ozark Actors’ Theatre’s enjoyable rendition. Our Town continues through July 21, to be followed in August with a production of the venerable musical, My Fair Lady.
Play: Our Town
Company: Ozark Actors Theatre
Venue: Cedar Street Playhouse, 701 North Cedar, Rolla, MO
Dates: July 18, 19, 20, 21
Tickets: $13-$22; contact 573-364-9523 or email@example.com
Photos courtesy of Ozark Actors Theatre