I am not a fan of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning drama "Our Town," about three days in the life of a small New England town at the turn of the 20th century. The Stage Left Players' season-opening production of the play marks the first time I've ever been truly entertained by it, despite the countless interpretations I've seen over the years.
Director Candace Cleland and her uniformly excellent cast haven't done anything unusual with the production. There is no stunt casting or avant garde set design. What they've done is make "Our Town" real and make it simple, the way Wilder intended it to be.
I still don't like the play-Act Three remains one of the most depressing times I've ever spent in a theatre-but the well-thought-out characterizations, intelligent directing and design-also by Cleland-made it worth the hour-long drive to the theatre from my home in Wintersville.
Courtney Stewart is luminous as the doomed Emily Webb, with her expressive face flooded with the rapidly-changing emotions of a young woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. Will Flannigan is the perfect contrast as her emotionally restrained great love, George Gibbs, letting his character's feelings come to the surface at precisely the right times.
Dave Wack is a kindly and steady guide for the audience of "Our Town" as the Stage Manager, a combination narrator, Greek chorus and bit player. Wack's nicely underplayed presentation is just right for this play about the ultimate importance of ordinary things.
Bill Finley gives one of his best performances ever as Dr. Frank Gibbs, a loving husband and father and workaholic general practitioner. Finley sounds like a real dad when he lays a low-key guilt trip on his son for young George's failure to do his chores. Jody Lewis offers a fine characterization of his wife Julia, a woman whose desire for travel and adventure never is met, but whose devotion to home and family never are in question.
Kari Lankford is excellent as Myrtle Gibbs, Emily's mother. Lankford brings an understated realism to the part, coupled with the ability to convey the character's strong and loving heart. John Diddle brings a quiet authority to the role of Charles Gibbs, editor of the local newspaper. Diddle makes all the right choices by showing us a man who is righteous without ever being self-righteous, and who can look at his own faults with self-deprecating humor.
Rosie Bresson is impressive as George's imaginative younger sister, Rebecca. Her lovely face and speaking voice say much more about a young girl's yearning to understand the universe than the sparse dialogue she is given. Roc Worth also does a lot with almost no dialogue as Emily's kid brother, Wally. (Worth plays Wally on Saturdays, with Sam Powell playing him on Sundays.)
The cast is full of first-rate character actors who know how to convey more with a few words or subtle gestures than less talented thespians. Because props and scenery are used so sparingly in this play, that ability is even more important than in more conventional stories.
Bud Powell is thoroughly likable as milkman Howie Newsome. Patti L'Italian is lovably cheerful as the always optimistic Mrs. Soames. James Reed ts frightening as the depressed, alcoholic church organist, Simon Stimson. Nathan Kuhns applies a gently humorous touch to the character of Professor Willard. Vince Ward is a solid presence as Constable Warren.
Abby Stoddard is highly credible as Mariah Powell, the undertaker's wife. Rachel Craig delivers her lines intelligently as Emily Gibbs' cousin, Caroline Bennett, but she needs to make more eye contact with Stoddard's character instead of looking out at the audience. The same may be said for Mikayla Shulas' in her interactions with Constable Warren. Andrew Letscher gives both eye contact and intelligent interpretation of lines as Shulas' older brother, Joe Crowell.
Kaitlyn Gorby as Sarah, Daniel Huston as Thomas, Sandy Huston as Mrs. Crowell, Logan Moff as Eleanor, Jen Powell as an audience member with strong opinions, Georgia Smith as Trudy and Sidni Worth as Nancy all acquit themselves in a fine manner in brief appearances.
"Our Town" will be presented again on Saturdays, Sept. 24 and Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. and Sundays, Sep. 25 and Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. at the Stage Left Players' Trinity Playhouse in Lisbon. Call for reservations at 330-831-7249.
I recommend "Our Town" for all but the youngest audience members. Parents should be cautioned that, while the language and situations are family-friendly, the script also includes much speculation about death and the afterlife.
Guest reviewer Charles Calabrese, a resident of Wintersville, Ohio, has been writing performing arts reviews for print and broadcast for more than 30 years.