There is no more quintessential piece of American theater than Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Written in 1938 and set decades earlier, Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize–winning look at the inhabitants of small-town America is a staple of school drama programs and community theaters. The Novato Theater Company is running a production through Feb. 16.
The play’s simple staging makes it ideal for a company on a budget. All that’s needed are a few chairs and tables, a couple of ladders and some window frames. There are no props of which to speak, as the cast mimes most everything picked up or used, including a horse.
The show’s stage manager (Christine Macomber) opens by introducing the cast and informing us that not much happens in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. What does happen is split into three acts (with just one intermission): “Daily Life,” “Love and Marriage” and “Death and Eternity.”
We meet the townspeople, including young George Gibbs (Bryan Munar) and Emily Webb (Nicole Thordsen). We follow the two from school to their courtship and marriage, and finally … well, the title of the third act gives a clear indication where things are headed. Which is where we’re all headed at some point, so best appreciate the time you have, which sums up the show’s theme.
Wilder’s somewhat-revolutionary concept (at the time) of acknowledging the theater as a theater and the cast as a cast and the audience as an audience watching a production of Our Town may seem hackneyed these days, but that’s what 80 years will get you. The show’s deliberate pacing and the lack of the theatrical equivalent of car chases and explosions will present a challenge for some, but that’s part of the show’s theme as well. Life’s short. Could everyone just please slow down for once?
Director Michael Barr has a firm grip on the material, but there are some casting issues. Munar, who did well in NTC’s A Chorus Line last season, is out of his element here. Thomas Peterson’s work in the secondary role of milkman Howie Newsome had me pondering what he could have done with George. Macomber is very good as the stage manager and Jennifer Reimer and Kristine Lowry De Turk bring warmth to their roles as mothers. Blocking becomes an issue when the cast comes out into the house.
Nothing remarkable really happens in Our Town, but that’s as it should be. Mostly.