BOTTOM LINE: Less is sometimes so much more.
Our Town is one of those plays that bears the sometimes unfortunate burden of superlatives. All too often, I have found, that expectation has out-shined actuality. I began to wonder if the play was really as good–if it really was as simple and as profound and as simultaneously singular and universal–as legend would have you belive. My curiosity was borne out of productions that simply did not reveal to me all the wonder I had been told this play possessed. And then I went to see the current production playing at the Barrow Street Theatre, and all my concerns melted away in about three minutes.
David Cromer’s magnificantly realized production literally and figuratively strips away all the excess and distractions that have plagued so many productions and in so doing sets free all the beauty and wonder of this play. It is so simple really. You have a great play as your foundation. You hire a group of talented, committed actors and a director that, for lack of a better term, “gets it,” and then get out of the way. Let it do the work for you. Impose nothing on it, just tell the story and let the play speak for itself.
For the first time I understood, viscerally as well as intellectually, what Our Town is about. It is about everything. It is about common people living common lives doing common things experiencing common emotions and doing it with their family and friends around them. It is, quite simply, about all of us. About the universality of our emotions and experiences. About the beauty of love and the temporary and transitory nature of life. About our desire to understand more than we can see and to hold on to things that we must let go. It is about our basic desire to know and to understand why. And accepting that we probably won’t ever really know.
Every aspect of this production is fully engaging, literally involving all the senses. The theatre is set up as a black box so that the audience sits on three sides. The set is two small dining room tables with chairs set around them. That is it. Everything else must be filled in by your own imagination. The house lights do not dim when the play starts, because, metaphorically, the lights do not dim when your life starts. Each piece of the puzzle has been so well thought out, and executed so subtly that audience members are invited to participate in the telling of the story by filling in all the lines in their own head. And it happens so naturally, without ever giving it a second thought. This, to my mind, is theatre at its most valuable and rewarding level.
All of this would not work as brilliantly as it does were it not for, as mentioned, director David Cromer (who also plays the Stage Manager) and his amazing, amazing cast. They were all so fantastic that I hate to mention anyone in particular for fear that it might suggest an heirarchy in my mind (which there isn’t), but at one point during the scene between George Gibbs and Emily Webb when they discover they are in love I actually forgot I was watching a play. Because I was watching life.
(Our Town plays at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street, through September 12, 2010. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $69 or $40 for onstage seating and a limited number of $20 student rush tickets are available at the box office day of. To purchase tickets visit smarttix.com. For more info visit ourtownoffbroadway.com.)