The town next door

Queen’s Drama’s production of Our Town remains close to the script with some strong performances from the cast

Our Town leads Aaron Williams (left) and Emma Fleury (right).
Our Town leads Aaron Williams (left) and Emma Fleury (right).
Credit: 
Supplied
Paul Bryant and Jackie Andrade
Paul Bryant and Jackie Andrade
Credit: 
Supplied
Emma Fleury, Tim Fort and Aaron Williams in Our Town.
Emma Fleury, Tim Fort and Aaron Williams in Our Town.
Credit: 
Supplied

Seventy-two years ago Thorton Wilder wrote Our Town, a play set in the fictionalized town Grover’s Corners in 1901. Since then it’s become North America’s most produced play. Four thousand productions have taken place in the last decade alone.

Directed by Craig Walker, Queen’s Drama’s production of Our Town seems like it’s been plucked from the vault and performed completely intact, the way it was in 1938. The costumes, designed by Anne Redish and Emily Bazett-Jones, are beautifully detailed and period-specific. The lighting and the sound design are both simple. The stage is bare with a limited number of props. Tables, chairs and ladders create the scenery; just the way Wilder intended the piece to be performed.

The choice to stick so close to the script may deter you from seeing this version of Our Town as it’s probably quite similar to productions of the play you’ve seen in the past, but there are many aspects to this production that will attract people—even if they’ve seen it before.

The bare stage puts an ample amount of pressure on the actors to stay completely focused. Nothing is hidden by set design, and the company stays on stage for the entire piece. Their presence adds an amazing energy and even though most of the company is expressionless for the majority of the play their existence is palpable.

In an alley staging configuration, we can see the other half of the audience on the opposite side of the Rotunda Theatre, which forces the audience to be continually in the present as we can see the expressions of people all around us—I never felt completely in the dark, which is one of Wilder’s main themes: to constantly be engaged and aware of the world around us.

Our Town has a rather simple plot. It chronicles small-town life and mainly two young people: Emily Webb and George Gibbs, played by Emma Fleury and Aaron Williams. We see Emily and George as children admiring the moon, as teenagers falling in love and getting married and as adults dealing with death.

Although not all of their acting styles are completely coherent—some play for comedy and others realistically—the entire cast shines in this production. Some incredibly strong supporting roles make Our Town engaging from start to finish. Matt Stewart and Paul Bryant, who both play fathers, act and look uncannily old for their actual ages. As the rather goofy George, Williams gives the character a seriousness that makes his scenes less hokey and more urgent. The list for stellar performances goes on.

The issue with Walker’s Our Town is its affectionate and sentimental tone, which feels more like nostalgia for the simpler and often puffed-up America of the past—and that’s not Our Town at all. The end of the play is an urgent cry to live in the here and now, but with all of the quaint old rituals this production glorified, I couldn’t help but feel cheated out of a life that seems so beautiful and bears no resemblance to the one I’m currently living.

Our Town might end up making you feel loss for something that wasn’t really there to begin with. There’s no attempt to subvert the script and although the performances are strong, it makes the characters come off as a one-dimensional flat bunch—and we know people weren’t actually like that, no matter how long ago. I doubt most people seeing this show will identify with anyone in the fictionalized town.

Nonetheless, Our Town is a two-and-half hour experience worthy of anyone’s attention. Regardless of how you feel at the end, Walker’s production is sure to spark some existential debates—and what else is university for if not to ponder the banal minutia of our lives? Our Town runs now until Feb.18 in Rotunda Hall in Theological Hall.

Tickets are $10 for students and seniors and $15 for adults and are available at the door.

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