“Our Town” - at Long Wharf Theatre
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
One should congratulate Gordon Edelstein for selecting Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” as the opening play of Long Wharf Theatre’s 50th season. He should also be given an A+ for innovative thinking. This classic work with universal appeal, ponders the cycle of life and the sobering fact that we are all bound to die. And yet, few of us are able to fully appreciate each, significant moment while we are alive. In reflecting on this all-encompassing concept, Edelstein wove Long Wharf Theatre’s history into his production by incorporating several, former actors as well as portraits of deceased, theatre personalities into the play’s cemetery scene. He filled the stage with a cross-section of local performers who are enrolled in its various, community-based programs, and situated “Our Town” in a thoroughly homogenized community that is more of a wishful Utopia than a fact.
Edelstein’s vision is not a deterrent because in the end, “...the play’s the thing” and the hope is that you will suspend belief that this is supposed to be 1901 in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. If you ignore the daily, horse-drawn milk wagon, the newspaper delivery boy, stay at home moms preparing full, hot breakfasts and feeding backyard chickens, and simply give your trust to the god-like narrator, you will be both touched and enriched by the work itself -- as was the very receptive, opening night audience. After all, we are used to taking the same liberties with Shakespeare -- so acceptance of such mixed-up oddities are now considered commonplace.
And yet, for me first impressions are hard to dismiss. I was introduced to “Our
Town” via a high school subscription to a series of plays. I had to convince a
girlfriend to travel with me from the Bronx to Houston St., in lower Manhattan,
on a Saturday evening, and I shall never forget my chagrin when we entered this
small theatre a bit earlier than the crowd. Since the curtain was open and there was no scenery except for two workmen’s ladders set against the bare, brick, rear wall of the stage, we began to wonder if we were in the wrong place. “Was there even going to be a play that night?” Well, I have to say that in all my years as a theatre columnist, this performance turned out to be the most unexpected, theatrical experience I ever encountered. I don’t remember any of the other plays I saw in the series but I shall never forget this highly imaginative production of Wilder’s masterpiece as performed by this unknown theatre group.
So there! I guess I’m a purest.
At Long Wharf, Edelstein tenderly directs Jenny Leona and Rey Lucas as the young sweethearts Emily and George. Don Sparks and Linda Powell play George’s parents while Christina Rounder is Mrs. Webb, and Leon Addison is her husband. Myra Lucretia Taylor, like the clear voice of God, takes full command as our Stage Manager/Narrator. This unique production of “Our Town” brings its own, homespun atmosphere to the stage.
Plays to November 2. Tickets: 203-787-4282
This review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre October/November 2014