Reviewed by James Karas
Our Town by Thornton Wilder.
Directed by Molly Smith
with Benedict Campbell (Stage Manager),
Patrick Galligan (Dr. Gibbs),
Catherine McGregor (Mrs. Gibbs), Jenny L. Wright (Mrs. Webb),
Charlie Gallant (George Gibbs),
Kate Besworth (Emily Webb) Patrick McManus (Mr. Webb).
Continues in repertory at the Royal George Theatre,
Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 15, 2016. www.shawfest.com
***** (out of five)
The Shaw Festival is in full swing with ten productions this season to take us well into October. Previews started on April 9 but the official openings are now on and time to start reviewing them.
Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is a beguiling play about small-town America at the beginning of the twentieth century. The main character is the Stage Manager (Benedict Campbell) who guides us through the play as a commentator and interacts with the other characters. The play takes place between 1903 and 1913 but the Stage Manager knows what happened much later.
Kate Besworth as Emily and Charlie Gallant George courting in Our Town. Photo: David Cooper
In his opening remarks the Stage Manager introduces the Director (Molly Smith) and the cast. We are constantly reminded that we are watching a play but that does not take anything away from the moving story of life in the town of Grover’s Corner which is so beautifully captured by this production.
After we get an overall picture of the town, we meet the Webb and Gibbs families. They are neighbours and Dr. Gibbs (Patrick Galligan) is the local physician while Mr. Webb (Patrick McManus) publishes the local paper. Their children are at school and George Gibbs (Charlie Gallant) and Emily Webb (Kate Besworth) are fated to fall in love and marry.
Wilder weaves into his plot the rhythm of life in the town - the milk delivery man, the cop on the beat, the birth of twins, going to school and other quotidian events.
Director Smith and the fine cast capture the charm, humour, pathos and beauty of the play with unerring precision. Aside from Campbell as the superb Stage manager our attention is drawn to Gallant’s George and Besworth’s Emily who meet awkwardly as teenagers and proceed through courtship and marriage. We are in love with them and in the end shed tears for them.
Benedict Campbell as The Stage Manager at the wedding of Emily and George. Photo: David Cooper / Shaw Festival
Mrs. Gibbs (Catherine McGregor) and Mrs. Webb (Jenny L. Wright) are classic mothers as we want to imagine them in a different world. The town people form an integrated community but the “others” like the Poles, the Catholics and perhaps even those Canucks are “over there.”
The set designed by Ken MacDonald is minimal. A few white chars, a couple of tables, skeleton trellises and a couple of step ladders on wheels make up all the props. Some of the action such as opening doors, washing of hands and eating ice cream is simply mimed.
The last act of Our Town is the most moving. We have gone through Daily Life, Love and Marriage and in the end we must face Death. Wilder had the brilliant idea of having the town’s dead sitting in chairs in the cemetery and talking stiffly to each other during a heart-wrenching funeral. The scene is done impeccably.
The production manages to evoke the magical combination of reality and theatricality. It achieves a lyricism that eschews sentimentality and delivers a humorous and deeply moving night at the theatre.
In the end it is a homage to the people of Grover’s Corner and an elegy for all of us.