BWW Review: American Classic OUR TOWN Celebrates the Beauty of Everyday-ness at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater
"I've married two hundred couples in my day. Do I believe in it? I don't know. I suppose I do. M marries N. Millions of them. The cottage, the go-cart, the Sunday afternoon drives in the Ford - the first rheumatism - the grandchildren - the second rheumatism - the deathbed - the reading of the will. Once in a thousand times it's interesting." _Thornton Wilder, Our Town
Poignant with humor aplenty, Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town feels ageless. It's the simple story of a small town called Grovers Corners - a snapshot of the people who live there, their daily lives, their milestones, and their demises. The play unfolds in three acts, spaced apart in time: Daily Life (1901), Love & Tradition (1904), and Death & Eternity (1913).
Beautifully written, with minimal sets and moments that suggest the characters are aware of the parts they're playing, this is a wonderful and enduring work of dramatic art - and one that the Milwaukee Repertory Theater carries out with ease.
The main characters include the all-knowing Stage Manager (the narrator), The Gibbs family, and the Webb family. George Gibbs and Emily Webb are young lovers whose lives we follow from adolescence in Act One to marriage in Act Two to heartbreak in Act Three.
The Rep has assembled a diverse, knock-out cast of 31, including (but not limited to) Laura Gordon as the Stage Manager, Di'Monte Henning as George Gibbs, Cher Desiree Alvarez as Emily Webb, Rana Roman as Mrs. Webb, Matt Zambrano as Mr. Webb, Chiké Johnson as Dr. Gibbs, and Elizabeth Ledo as Mrs. Gibbs.Gordon does an exquisite job of keeping rapt attention through all her narrative exposition, her presence warm and comforting in its omniscience. Henning and Alvarez are simply adorable as the young lovers. From bright-eyed childhood to heart-aching adulthood, theirs is a delightful and affecting journey to behold. Among the rest of the Grovers Corners townsfolk, there are notable Milwaukee favorites: James Pickering, Carrie Hitchcock, Jonathan Wainwright, and Jonathan Smoots, to name a few. In an especially cool move, the Stage Manager introduces much of the local talent as they file on stage in the first moments of the show. As the 31 actors pour in from the back of the house and down the aisles, they set up sparse props and even costume themselves on stage, as if admitting up front that it's all for show. This is part of what makes Our Town so singular. The artful staging and breaking of the fourth wall celebrates the wonder of theatrics - actors stepping into another's shoes, creating a world that exists only on stage, and using play to drive an audience's thoughts and feelings. There's something remarkable in that. The other part of what makes Our Town singular is the stories it shares. Stories of real, everyday people. People dealing with generational differences, the fear of progress, a longing to grow up, and an aching to stay young. People who perhaps never got to see Paris, but always enjoyed "pleasures of a kind." Ordinary people whose message is a timeless one: "Happiness - that's the great the thing. The important thing is to be happy." Though Our Town is not, perhaps, a risk for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, that doesn't make it any less special and satisfying. Sometimes, there's nothing better than a play that inspires laughter, sweet tears, and a warm-fuzzy feeling. "Once in a thousand times it's interesting," the Stage Manager says. With a classic as beloved and far-reaching as Our Town, the Rep succeeds in making things more than a little interesting indeed. Photo by Michael Brosilow