“The moon is terrible” declares young Emily as she gazes out her window in Act One of Our Town. It is fierce, intense, awful to the moonstruck girl as she feels the first flush of romantic love toward her neighbor, George, gazing at the moon at the same time from his window across the stage. How will they fare together?
Now at ART of WNY in a fine production directed by Matthew Refermat, Our Town was first produced in 1938. The three-act Pulitzer Prize-winning iconic play by Thornton Wilder studies ordinary people from the cradle to beyond the grave in the New Hampshire town of Grover’s Corners at the beginning of the 20th century, centering on two families, the Webbs and Gibbs.
The Stage Manager informs us at the outset that this is a play, instructing and explaining things to the audience throughout the three acts, and occasionally playing one of the characters. Verneice Turner is excellent in this role. She has a glint in her eye and a great deal of warmth in her voice, making it clear that she knows quite a bit about life as she takes us through the joys and trials of the town’s inhabitants.
In keeping with Wilder’s instructions, the set by Matthew LaChuisa and Candice Kogut, is bare bones. Actions, like tossing newspapers, opening doors, or preparing breakfast are pantomimed, which highlight the routine-ness of daily life and keep the actors very focused.
Kerrykate Abel as Myrtle Webb and Shayna Raichilson-Zadok as Julia Gibbs do most of the heavy lifting in the miming department as mothers to the young lovers, Emily and George. They prepare meals, string beans, and feed phantom chickens while chatting away. The characters are finely drawn, and each woman plays her role with distinction. Ms. Raichilson-Zadok is the more thoughtful Julia who laments, “Only it seems to me that once in your life you ought to see a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to,” and Ms. Abel is the more business-like and brisk Myrtle, who casually dismisses Emily’s girlish concerns about her looks.
Jack Horohoe is the perfect small-town newspaperman as Charles Webb, father to Emily. He has a quiet, yet very strong presence that draws the audience to him. Victor Morales is very good as the compassionate doctor, Frank Gibbs, who knows all of the town secrets. And you can see that he is having a great deal of fun while trying to seduce his own wife.
Kit Kuebler is Emily, who grows from the moonstruck girl to a married woman with children. She is fine as the younger Emily, full of doubt about herself and wary of her new feelings for George. She seemed still quite girlish in the third act, rather than having the presence of a more mature woman. Russell Holt did not fare well as George in the production I saw. He seemed unsure of himself on stage, and rather stilted. There was little heat or spark in the relationship between the young lovers, which is unfortunate as their relationship is central to the play.
John F. Kennedy is a hoot in a tiny role as the Professor, as is Karen Harty as Mrs. Soames in the wedding scene. Ayden Herreid, Vivian Hannah Porter, Ryan Kaminski and Shakora Purks round out this very good cast.
Our Town speaks eloquently to the terrible and exquisite adventure that is human life and the unsolvable mystery that is death through the “simple” lives of the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. ART of WNY takes us there in an engaging production.
Our Town is at ART of WNY until January 13th.