A fresh take on Our Town
By Eva King
The script for the play, “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder, is extremely boring. Reading it was painful. I had to stop reading during act two and take a nap. Bad as the script is, Clackamas Community College’s presentation of the classic gave it a breath of fresh air from the dusty attic it was trapped in.
The college theater department staged the play in the Niemeyer Center for two weeks in November. Normally I wouldn’t read a play before seeing it, but I helped with costuming.
Written in 1938, it’s safe to say it’s old and possibly even overdone. The play is set in the early 1900’s in a small town called Grover’s Corners, where nothing of interest happens, people just live their lives, die, and that’s it. The “stage manager,” who serves as a narrator, guides us through the town, narrowing in on the Webb and Gibbs households.
Throughout the story we see the relationship, marriage and eventual end of Emily Webb, played by Vienna Clark, and George Gibbs, played by Sidney Palmer. There’s a large emphasis in the third act, which is Emily’s funeral, about the charm of daily life and appreciating it before it’s too late. I thought that this message fell flat in the script, but the actors brought it to life and made it have meaning again.
I actually teared up as soon as the beginning sequence started, which was an interesting little interpretive dance that doubled as them setting up the furniture for act 1. Apart from large furniture pieces, such as the family’s kitchen tables, everything was pantomimed. This method of acting things out can be confusing sometimes, but the actors did a great job of being clear with their movements.
The Director, Jessica Wallenfels, actually mentions the use of mimicry in her director’s note, stating “The pantomime allows us as audience members to imagine so much of the world created onstage, filling in the gaps with our own imaginations and making us active participants. Familiar acts performed by the characters are pulled out of thin air, making us see them with fresh eyes.”
“I wasn’t sure how Our Town would land with Clackamas students in the Fall of 2023,” said Wallenfels in an email. “There are a lot of old-fashioned ideas in the play, including some statements about gender and marriage that we see very differently nowadays. But somehow the genius of the writing, in combination with our inventive casting of roles, brings a fresh take. I think we honor the show while subverting expectations in sly ways that make it fun.” I definitely agree with her perspective on it.
As a viewer, it was fun to watch due to the characterization that was done by the actors. There was a lot of “stage business” that kept everything lighthearted, and kept the audience laughing. During a powerful monologue at the end done by Emily though, a quick glance to my fellow audience members revealed that everyone was crying, or at least teary eyed. All of these factors combined effectively to give a refreshed feeling to the once stuffy show.