"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?"
That simple question strikes forcefully. It's posed near the end of one of the greatest play of the 20th century, Thornton Wilder's Our Town. 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 of the town's younger inhabitants 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.
This is what gives Our Town a timeless quality that has kept the play in active repertoire for almost 70 years. No doubt many have seen one incarnation or another and it might be tempting to skip this one. Don't, because you'll be throwing away an opportunity to see a really outstanding production, one that will live in your memory long after the final curtain.
It starts with a first-rate company under the detailed direction of Joseph Ziegler. Even the smallest of roles become beautifully nuanced character studies that help the performance quickly coalesce into a rich tapestry. 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.
Albert Schultz takes on the role of stage manager who guides us on this emotional journey with a laid-back manner that never completely masks some of his more pithy comments. Schultz heads an ensemble cast that includes Jeff Lillico giving a sensitive performance as a young man realizing the responsibilities of adulthood. Lillico is paired with Martha MacIsaac as Emily. She 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 Spidell as her mother, the mother whose youth and beauty she notices too late. Sometimes theatregoers do not realize what treasures 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!
Soulpepper Theatre's revival of Our Town continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District until August 9th in rotation with Time of Your Life. Tickets range from $40-$59. When available, rush seats (when available) for $20 starting 15 minutes prior to curtain time. Visit www.soulpepper.ca or call the Box office: 416 866-8666.