Theater at Monmouth: “Our Town” (REVIEW)
“It goes so fast; we don’t have time to look at one another.” Hannah Daly, “Emily”
Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town” opened on July 19th and is set in a fictional town called “Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire” in the early 1900’s. It is impossible not to see striking similarities between that location and so many other small New England towns- in fact, the cast photo used for the play’s online promotion was taken in the large Monmouth Center Cemetery which borders Cumston Hall, the Theater’s home. Within that cemetery lie the remains of many generations of families eerily similar to the Gibbs, Webbs, Herseys, Crowells and Newsomes of Grover’s Corners, right down to those who served and died in the Civil War, and no doubt some of their lives mirrored those of the characters in this play.
TAM’s exceptional cast and crew worked their magic with transforming the past back to life in the telling this simple tale; it was surreal during the intermission to step outside for those few minutes and into what appeared to be a future version of the tale currently being told inside.From the moment the narrator “Stage Manager” (Mark S. Cartier) lays the initial groundwork of the three act play, introducing the audience to the town by verbally painting the layout and imagery of Grover’s Corner, one quickly envisions a rather nondescript, sleepy little hamlet about to awaken with the rising sun. But rather than leave one simply seeing the immediate, the Stage Manager is key throughout the production to showing the audience that more lies below than what one sees immediately upon the surface of the town- there are layers here, of time and human existence, in which the present occupants play their part but are but a piece of a continually changing and ever-forgotten tapestry of ordinary individual human existence.
As the day starts (this first act being called “Daily Life”), a young boy Joe Crowell (Alexander Harvey) expertly delivers the newspapers and Howie Newsome (Ryan Simpson) the milk along with his Bessie to the townfolk. (Note: the lighting and sounds effects utilized are especially important here and well used; one clearly sees the town “wake up” as it goes from quiet dark silence to a busy, bustling typical morning full of light and activity.)
Lifelong resident Mrs. Gibbs (Grace Bauer) greets her exhausted husband Dr. Gibbs (James Noel Hoban) at the end of a long early morning house call delivering newborn twins before awakening their children, George (Luke Couzens) and Rebecca (Aislinn Kerchaert) and getting ready to go to school. Next door, the Webb household is also getting ready for their day, as Mrs. Webb (Ambien Mitchell) prepares breakfast for her family, “Grover’s Corner Sentinel” editor husband Charles (Mike Anthony) and their children, Emily (Hannah Daly) and Wally (Simon Kiser). George and Emily are seen to be typical and ordinary young people, beloved by their families and friends- he wants to be a baseball player and she is among of the brightest children in school- and one sees that they are, even as teenagers, interested in each another. Mrs. Gibbs dreams of going to Paris and over chores, tells her friend Mrs. Webb of some money she came into that could be used for the journey, but it is not to be.
With the second act (“Love and Marriage”), the story takes the audience to three years later. Not much has changed, as the town wakes on this stormy morning- Howie and Bessie still deliver the milk, but now Si Crowell (Max Wasnak), Joe’s younger brother delivers the papers. It is the wedding day of George and Emily, having fallen in love, and we see the families prepare the two to wed and in doing so, take their places in the town’s society as a married couple. There are moments of sheer terror and panic for both young people, as they see the path before them and fear what lies ahead- but ultimately with encouragement and support of their families, all fears are conquered. They wed with the entire town in attendance and bearing witness, including neighbor Mrs. Soames (Janis Stevens), who mentions to the audience about “how lovely a wedding it is”, as she cries- a staple participant in these ceremonies.The third act (“Death and Eternity”), set nine years later, takes place at the large town cemetery and predictably deals with the end of one’s life as a natural conclusion to the cycle- and yet is full of rich depth and classic dramatic elements. The Stage Manager speaks at some length, telling of the Grover’s Corners townsfolk buried there whom the audience met earlier and what caused their passings: Mrs. Gibbs (pneumonia while travelling to Ohio to see Rebecca), Wally Webb (burst appendix while camping in North Conway), Mrs. Soames and Simon Stimson (Josh Carpenter), the church’s alcoholic and tortured organist (suicide by hanging) are among the newly dead and they speak to one another throughout the final act.
The town’s undertaker Joe Stoddard (Frank Omar) and Sam Craig (Max Wasnak) a young man returning home to Grover’s Corners for his cousin’s funeral appear. The audience soon learns that the cousin is Emily, dying in childbirth to her and George’s second child. After the funeral, Emily joins the dead, asking them about if it is possible to go back to be among the living. Mother-in-law Mrs. Gibbs tells Emily that they “must forget the life that came before and wait”. Emily refuses to do so and despite the warnings of the dead, she decides to return for just one day, picking her 12th birthday. But it is soon too painful for her, as she realizes just how much life should be valued, “every, every minute” and Emily returns to the cemetery. Before finally taking her eternal spot, she asks the Stage Manager whether anyone living realizes the value of their lives and life while they live it, to which he replies, “No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some.”
CAST (in order of appearance):
Stage Manager: Mark S. Cartier
Dr. Gibbs: James Noel Hoban
Joe Stoddard: Frank Omar
Howie Newsome: Ryan Simpson
Mrs. Gibbs: Grace Bauer
Mrs. Webb: Ambien Mitchell
George Gibbs: Luke Couzens
Rebecca Gibbs: Aislynn Kerchaert
Wally Webb: Simon Kiser
Emily Webb: Hannah Daly
Professor Willard/ Warren: Bill Van Horn
Editor Webb: Mike Anthony
Joe Crowell: Alexander Harvey
Simon Stimson: Josh Carpenter
Mrs. Soames: Janis Stevens
Si Crowell/ Sam Craig: Max Waszak