BWW Review: You'll Love Life in OUR TOWN at Bellevue Little Theatre
Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN just went into my books as one of the most heartfelt plays I've seen. Bellevue Little Theatre outdid themselves with this deceptively simple, meta-theatrical three-act production.
In 1938 Wilder wrote this Pulitzer Prize-winning story of the people of Grover's Corner, New Hampshire. This was the second Pulitzer for Wilder, having won for his 1927 novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. He went on to win a third with The Skin of Our Teeth for drama in 1943. Wilder was a master of the written word, which is probably why this play requires no elaborate set: just wooden stools, chairs, and tables along with some effective lighting (Taelore Sterns, designer.)
This slice of life at the turn of the 20th century centers on young lovers, George Gibbs and Emily Webb. It follows their 13 year relationship from high school through marriage to death. Their daily life is guided by a Stage Manager, who directs the actors, interacts with the audience, plays minor parts, and even provides the sound effects of bells, whistles, thunder, and more. The Gibbs and Webb families are there to flesh out the story and provide perspective. There is not a lot of action, but there is a lot of living being done on stage and it's a breath of fresh air.
Marya Lucca-Thyberg ably directs this fine cast and smoothly running production.
Stuart Stenger as the amusing Stage Manager is wonderful at inserting humor seemingly effortlessly. His quips and use of sound effects are both funny and charming. "Right on time," he declares as he blows a whistle and looks at his wrist watch. These absurd little snippets provoke the audience into unexpected laughter by their sheer ridiculousness without dipping into heavy-handed humor. Stenger is easily understood with smooth delivery of lines and clear enunciation, and has a comfortable presence on stage that makes one feel included.
Mike Palmreuter as Doc Gibbs comes across as the dad everyone would love to have had. He is a very aware parent. He is affectionate, but insists his children carry out their responsibilities. He is fair minded and level headed. On top of being an ace dad, he makes it apparent that he still loves their mother.
Sara Mattix plays Mrs. Julia Gibbs with an equally likable style. She is a solid rock of a mother, good friend to her neighbor, and sweetly sentimental. Mattix, Palmreuter, and Stenger stood out for me exactly because they did not stand out. Their performances didn't seem like acting, but rather like just "being."
The central couple, George and Emily, capture the exuberance of youth. Liam Brenzel's George is high energy, boyish, and so smitten with Emily that he is willing to make big changes for her. Whether he is throwing an imaginary ball or talking to Emily from his second floor bedroom window (indicated by standing on a wooden ladder), he successfully pulls off the boy next door from days gone by. Danielle Luby is a delightful Emily with high standards. She is forthright, yet she is demure. She is a young lady who is knows what she wants. Lovely with a brilliant smile, Luby is a bright spot.
The Webb couple is well played by Phyllis Cremonini and Thomas Gunning. Like the Gibbs, they are loving parents, but they seem to have fewer intuitive parenting skills. Mrs. Myrtle Webb tells her daughter Emily that she is "pretty enough for normal purposes," and Mr. Charles Webb delivers a string of bad advice to George and then rescinds it, and jokes that the women are at the wedding to "make sure the knot is tied good and tight."
The principles are supported by a solid ensemble. In particular, Jon Roberson portrays the alcoholic choir director, Simon Stimson, with a strong degree of pathos and as annoying as Stimson is, I pity him.
I loved the characters. I loved the sparseness of the set requiring us to use our imaginations. I loved Nancy Buennemeyer's vintage costuming. I loved the obvious sound effects and the pantomiming. I loved the subdued performances of the cast letting Wilder's words paint the story. Finally, I loved the message: Understand the value of life while you are living it.
Visit OUR TOWN. It's beautiful and filled with some pretty wonderful people.
Nov 8-24, 2019