Front Row Centre Theatre Review: OUR TOWN

"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?"

That simple question, posed near the end of one of the greatest play of the 20th century strikes forcefully. In Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN the simple joys of everyday life take centre stage.

Set in Grover's Corners, the play looks at daily life, love, marriage and ultimately death. Few playwrights have matched Wilder's skill for weaving simple folksy charm with pointed observations about the world in which we live. Early in the play the Stage Manager tells of one young lad who would graduate with honours from M.I.T. only to lose his life on the battlefields of France. "All that education for nothing!" is his succinct comment.

 It is just such comments that give Wilder's play its potency. It may be difficult for some modern audiences to relate to life in a small New Hampshire town at the turn of the century, but as mothers call their children to hurry and come to breakfast and brothers and sisters tease each other you realize that family life of a century ago is not so different from today.

That is what gives OUR TOWN a timeless quality that has made it a staple of regional and community theatres ever since the original Broadway production opened 68 years ago. Hardly a season goes by when some local group doesn't present OUR TOWN, and no doubt many have seen one incarnation or another. In addition to a rather unfaithful film version there have been no less than 3 video versions for TV and in the 1950s an original musical version for television featuring Frank Sinatra and introducing the song "Love and Marriage." 

With all that it might be tempting to skip this latest edition by Soulpepper but to do would be throwing away an opportunity to see a really outstanding production, one that will live in your memory long after the run finishes. It just doesn't get much better than this!

With a cast that is uniformly excellent – even down to the smallest of roles – under the detailed direction of Joseph Ziegler, the evening quickly coalesces into a rich tapestry made up of beautifully nuanced character studies. Of course it's all there in Wilder's text, but so many productions miss some or even all the subtleties. Not here. Look at the faces: the eyes communicate a wealth of emotion beneath whatever banalities the conversations hold.

Soulpepper's artistic director Albert Schultz takes on the role of stage manager with simple folksy charm that never completely masks some of his barbed comments. He leads an ensemble cast that includes Shaw Festival veteran Jeff Lillico as George Gibbs. The scene where he shares a soda and serious talk with his girlfriend Emily you see a young boy's awakening to the realization of love and the responsibilities of adulthood. 

Lillico is paired with Martha MacIsaac as Emily who plays here early scenes with a naturalness and simplicity perfectly suited to her character. Since Emily dominates the entire third act, it is a wonderful showcase for any performer, but MacIsaac takes it to new heights. An already outstanding production is pushed into the stratosphere.

Of course, MacIsaac doesn't do it alone. She has Nancy Palk as her mother-in-law to guide her into the new environment, and Jane Spiddell as her mother, the mother whose youth and beauty she notices too late.

Sometimes theatregoers do not realize what treaures are before them until long after the shows have closed. Don't make that mistake here. This is one production you will want to see relive over and over!

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From This Author Mark Andrew Lawrence

Mark Andrew Lawrence began his broadcasting career as music director for St. Catharines radio station CHRE. After six years there and eight years at classical (read more...)