“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” So implores the newly deceased Emily in the play “Our Town,” written by Thornton Wilder. This entreaty encapsulates this quiet, lovely play that provides a glimpse into the life of the small town of Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire just after the turn of the 20th century, but could be set in Anywhere, U.S.A., in any century.
Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, first produced in 1938 and now brought to the Nevada Theatre by Paul Emery, is Wilder’s attempt to illustrate that humans waste opportunities both to connect with each other and appreciate life during the time they are alive. But rather than display his thesis through intense action or extreme activities, Wilder presents several small slices of small lives to demonstrate that life passes by quickly. The last of the three acts poignantly impresses upon the audience this theory — if you have dry eyes by the end of it, you will have done better than I did.
To guide the audience through Grover’s Corners, the Stage Manager, gently and warmly played by Kenny Miele, speaks directly to the audience, giving the history of the town, its physical layout, informing us about its denizens and imparting his philosophy of life. Although the town has a number of residents, the neighboring Gibbs and Webb families are emphasized with daughter Emily Webb, movingly played by Erin Cummiskey, and George Gibbs, convincingly acted by Sam Asher Metke-Ramsell, portrayed while growing up, falling in love, marrying, having children and dying. The caring characterization of Mr. Webb by Stephen Wellman and the maternal but frustrated interpretation of Mrs. Gibbs by Lindsay Dunckel particularly appealed to me.
To place the emphasis on the people and activities rather than on an extravagant setting or props, Wilder directed that only minimal props and set be used — some chairs, some steps, some books. Instead, the actors mime the activities in which they engage, such as cooking breakfast or delivering milk via horse-drawn wagon. This requires the actors to be precise in their movements so that the audience understands what is transpiring The ensemble members, excellently directed by Sandra Rockman, were extremely meticulous in their actions and expressions — I never was uncertain as to what was taking place.
Not having seen this play in some years, I had forgotten what a gem of playwriting it is — simple in its thesis and composition yet comprising complex and philosophical ideas, objective yet caring about its characters and making a strong affirmation for paying attention to the details and people in one’s life. And this current production very nicely encapsulated the warmth, sadness and timelessness of the playwriting.
Don’t expect “shoot ‘em up” or extreme hi-jinks from this play. Instead, “Our Town” is a quiet piece of theater that yields an entirely thoughtful, moving, sweet, sad, loving experience. Go see this well done production at the Nevada Theatre, playing through Nov. 3.
Hindi Greenberg thought she was experiencing snippets from the lives of various residents of Nevada County while watching this play. She wonders if she sat in one of the old, local cemeteries if she would hear its residents talking like those in Grover’s Corners.