Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Rob's review of Separate Tables
The play doesn't offer a stunning a character such as Stanley or Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, Hickey in The Iceman Cometh, or any number of Shakespeare's characters. The characters in Our Town, even the ever-present Stage Manager, are drawn specifically for their ordinariness.
The beauty of Our Town is its gentle and loving view of life, and that gentle view elevates even the most ordinary life. Playwright Thornton Wilder wrote novels as well as plays. Two of my favorite quotes come from his writing. One from his novel, "All the King's Men": "If a man knew how to live he would never die." The other is from Our Town: "We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars ... everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings."
Those quotes keep giving me chills, decade after decade.
Our Town is a pretty much indestructible play. You have to really screw it up to screw it up. In most plays, a weak performance in a critical role can topple the production. Not so with Our Town. I've seen so-so Stage Managers and weak links in other roles, and the story still works. While I believe that's true, I've also noticed that a particularly careful and loving production of the play will make the story soar higher than usual.
In the production by Mother Road Theatre Company currently running in Musical Theatre Southwest's black box space, we get a well-balanced and careful delivery co-directed by Vic Browder and Colin Jones. They give the actors and the script the calm touch the play needs to lift off the ground. And it does so nicely.
One extraordinary first impression is the set design by Browder. Taking a hint from one of the characters talking about being in "Grover's Corner, Sutton County, New Hampshire, United States of America, Continent of North America, Western Hemisphere, the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the Mind of God," Browder sets the play on the celestial plane. There are few props of conventional scenery (a few chairs here and there, a couple of large blocks). Yet the painting of outer space on the floor, walls, and ceiling floats the small town out into the universe. Great idea.
The story is told in three acts: Act I: Daily Life; Act II: Love and Marriage; and Act III: Death and Eternity. Each act is true to its theme as it follows the Gibbs family and the Webb family who live next door to each other. Their kids grow up with each other, and George Gibbs and Emily Webb grow particularly close. The first act is relatively uneventful. The second act comes with a tad more action, and the third act is a powerhouse. One member of the audience who noted that the play was "boring" after the first act said that "This is a really good play" on his way out of the theater. That's Our Town.
Browder and Jones have brought together a strong cast. Kristin Hansen as the Stage Manager carries the story. The character is even-toned and matter-of-fact. Hansen delivers this well. It's an odd role that is the opposite of dramatic, but it still requires a folksy above-the-action touch, which Hansen delivers well.
The other characters have their moments, but none are overly dramatic. We get to know Emily (Zoey Reese) and George (Jordan Olguin) as they grow though a number of stages in life. Both actors deliver well. George is a straight-ahead kid, a mix of self-centered and conscientious. Emily it a bit more complex, the smartest kid in town. She's inquisitive in a world that takes life as it comes without question. Reese captures Emily's sense of wonder and her eagerness to fill herself with life. It's a charming performance.
Kudos to the production team and the cast. They've delivered the best Our Town I've seen. That's about the highest praise I can give to a production of this play.
Our Town, through October 21, 2018, by Mother Road Theatre Company, in the MTS Black Box, 6320 Domingo Rd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. General admission runs from $15 to $24. You can buy tickets online at motherroad.org or by calling 505-243-0596.