David Cromer Re-envisions Our Town at the Broad, Santa Monica
by Thornton Wilder
directed by David Cromer
@ The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
through February 12
I could go on and on. I see my mother in Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb. She worked her fingers to the bone. She didn't long to go to Paris, like Mrs. Gibbs, but she certainly longed for something beyond the confines of the kitchen and her daily chores around the house caring for me and my father. Nonetheless, she did her job with little complaining and brought me up to be respectful of others - something that is sorely missing from many in this current generation.
Let's be specific about Cromer's unusual staging. It is in the three-quarter and the Broad stage is arranged almost as if it were a gymnasium with bleacher-type seating - here on three sides instead of two, and 99% of the action takes place on the floor with, as usual, a minimum of props. Some action is also played out cinematically, from one end of the auditorium to the other, as actors move - walk, run, whatever is required in the scene - around in a circle behind the first row of seats, to give the effect of moving about the streets of the town. The choir scene in Act I is in the balcony, so some audience must swivel in their seats in order to see it. Interesting, pulling us into the action, making us feel part of Grover's Corners - and for the most part, it works exceedingly well. The only difficulty is sometimes hearing the actors. If you sit center, it is difficult to hear what occurs at the back end of the stage, where the Webb kitchen is set up. If you are sitting on the sides facing the Webb kitchen, it will be hard to hear what transpires in the Gibbs' kitchen, or at the wedding ceremony in Act II, which is front and center, at the opposite end. The actors could be miked, I suppose, but that would ruin the effect of the play as written. It would further complicate the simplicity of the early 1900s.Wilder might turn over in his grave! Anyway, I admire this novel, exciting execution and what it is attempting to do, so the slight straining to hear at certain times did not take away my appreciation of the overall evening.
Despite the aforementioned acoustical problems, the overall production is worthy of immense praise. One line that Hunt speaks in Act III will stick with me forever: "Aren't they waitin' for the eternal part in them to come out clear?" We all want that special light from within to shine forever. Thornton Wilder tapped into humanity then, now and most likely for all eternity - and of this fine production, he would be proud.