Review: OUR TOWN at Shakespeare Theatre Company

An extraordinary ensemble brings post-pandemic resonance to an American classic

By: May. 22, 2022
Review: OUR TOWN at Shakespeare Theatre Company

The Shakespeare Theatre Company's Our Town is a triumphant production filled with vitality, consequence, appeal and everyday gumption. Thornton Wilder's 1938 classic-a work that captures the universal experience of being alive-takes on new resonance and depth in the capable hands of an extraordinary ensemble.


This play is immediate-one to see and share and talk about. Here we are, easing out of two years of pandemic and we're appreciating everyday things anew: hugs, birthday parties, shared dinners, water cooler conversations, live theater performances. What better classic to explore now than Thornton Wilder's Our Town?

Review: OUR TOWN at Shakespeare Theatre Company

There's new significance to Emily Webb's cry, "Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it-every, every minute?"


"Rekindling our connection to one another is what matters most," says STC Artistic Director Simon Godwin. "[It] is a celebration of our creative community and its resilience in the face of great hardship. This is an Our Town unlike any you have seen before-a fresh and personal rendition-receptive to the beauty and chaos of existence as we know it."


Directed by Helen Hayes Award winner Alan Paul, Shakespeare Theatre Company's Associate Artistic Director, Our Town celebrates artists who call the Washington metropolitan area's theater community their home. Their town is our town.


On a press opening that was delayed a few days due to a Covid outbreak among the cast, six understudies were pressed into service to ensure the show would go on-and they were wonderful! While the press night cast had less than optimum time to rehearse together, you'd never know. I want to revisit the performance in a few weeks-not because the cast I saw was lacking in any way, but because I'm intrigued to see how the other incredible local actors in the cast might work together in a different way to illuminate other aspects of the text.

Review: OUR TOWN at Shakespeare Theatre Company

Our Town contrasts simple moments in the lives of the citizens of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, a place that represents all our towns. We're ushered into the experience by the Stage Manager, played by five-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Holly Twyford, veteran of more than 80 productions in the DC metropolitan area. In this metadrama that never lets us forget we're all part of a play, Twyford is an affable, assured, steady bridge between the audience and the actors on stage. She draws us in. The production is so intimate that a raised eyebrow or nod of Twyford's head reads to the very back of the theater and is used by the actor to great effect.

The production centers on the relationship between two young Grover's Corners neighbors, George Gibbs and Emily Webb. We see their childhood friendship blossom into romance, marriage, and unexpected loss. Chinna Palmer as Emily and Jake Loewenthal as George are endearing and likeable. We're rooting for this couple. Palmer and Lowenthal, too, use the intimacy of the space-staged in the round at the Harman-to foster a strong connection with the audience. Their drugstore soda-sipping scene where the young individuals become a couple in love is especially charming.


Through George's parents (played by Natascia Diaz and Todd Scofield*) and Emily's (Felicia Curry and Elliot Dash*) we see adult concerns of wanting the best for children, of expectations and respect (chopping wood rather than playing baseball), of encouragement and worry. We see jobs and daily concerns encroaching and a sought-after trip to Europe forever shelved. These experienced actors bring gravitas and depth to the roles. Maisie Ann Posner as George's sister Rebecca and Tommy Nelson as Emily's brother Wally, do great jobs balancing the loyalties and jealousies and petty annoyances that are eternal to sibling relationships.

Review: OUR TOWN at Shakespeare Theatre Company


This Grover's Corners is peopled with one of the most delightful and experienced ensembles of DC actors: Josh Decker, Kiana Johnson*, Quinn M. Johnson*, Sarah C. Marshall, Ryan Neely*, Lawrence Redmond, Suzanne Richard, Christopher Michael Richardson, Erin Weaver*, and Summer Wei.


In particular, Lawrence Redmond as troubled choir leader Simon Stimson and Sarah C. Marshall as town busybody Mrs. Soames have wonderful moments together in the Act I choir rehearsal. Marshall and Redmond are memorable throughout the production in even small moments on stage. Redmond doesn't even utter a word in a later encounter with Mr. Webb on the street, but his pain is evident.


The production team created a beautiful, intimate space. The Harman is a flexible space-although we're accustomed to it as a traditional proscenium, Our Town is staged in the round. In the seating on the sides and back, the audience is no more than a few rows from the actors. Scenic designer Wilson Chin's warm wooden ceiling arches suggest a gabled home, a church, or the triangular pediments in so many of DC's federal buildings. Black spiral stairs punctuate the corners providing some visually striking entrances and exits. Furniture and text suggest the general place and time. An inspired scenic shift in the third act helps underscore human's tendency to skim the surface and look through each other.


Philip Rosenberg's lighting design includes visible theater lights that wash the Harman's louvered wooden walls and illuminate the audience, reminding us we are all part of the play. Sarafina Bush's costumes suggest the early 20th century yet remain timeless and eternal. Michael John LaChiusa's original music underscores the production; John Gromada is sound designer and Jay Crowder is music director.

Review: OUR TOWN at Shakespeare Theatre Company

Together, these production elements create a close, warm, and eternal mood that allows the actors' performances and Wilder's words shine.


True to Wilder's stage directions, props are merely suggested. Mime and movement directors Mark Jaster and Emma Crane Jaster helped create a naturalness and fluidity to the action so the pantomime was never distracting or gimmicky.


The Shakespeare Theatre Company's Our Town is both a warm hug and an urgent reminder to connect with people and explore opportunities. The production partners some of the most talented theater artists in our area with an enduring American classic that begged to be reexplored after the pandemic-imposed distance among us.


"We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars...everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings."


* Indicates an understudy performing in the Friday, May 20 press night production. Some production photographs used in this review feature actors who were not performing on the evening of the review. Actors Eric Hissom, Hudson Koonce, Kimberly Schraf, and Craig Wallace are anticipated to resume their roles soon.


Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission and one 10-minute intermission.


OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder runs through June 11, 2022. Our Town is produced by the Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. For tickets, accessible performance information, special events, COVID-19 attendance policies, and further information visit the company's Click Here.


Photo credit: Teresa Castracane Photography

Review: OUR TOWN at Shakespeare Theatre Company


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