When I was in Junior High School (long, long ago) our school staged Our Town, the classic play by Thornton Wilder, making it (as best as I can remember) the first community theatre show I’d seen.
I remember being amazed - there were my friends and classmate up on the stage, playing characters, reciting their lines, bringing this unique story to life. I was far too shy to take part, but it was an eye-opening experience.
My main memory was that it was a surprisingly emotional experience - heart-warming heart-breaking, and a revelation.
So when I heard that ARTS was tackling the show, I was anxious to see it again, and see how it affected a slightly more mature audience member (namely, me).
I’m happy to report that the story has lost none of its power. It’s a snapshot of life in a small American town - Grover’s Corner - just at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The play - surprisingly - uses no set and no props. Instead, the staging is made up entirely of a few chairs, some subtle lighting effects and the audience’s imagination. The actors bring it to life, fleshing out the household, acting out each casual activity, bringing the neighborhood into being via your mind’s eye - right down to the horse that pulls the Milk Wagon.
The show helpfully provides a guide, the Stage Manager (here played masterfully by Mike Murdock). You’d be hard-pressed to find a more challenging (or pivotal) role in a stage production. The Stage Manager paints the picture of the town, both physical and emotional. He reminds you of the essence of life - what it is to be in a loving family, to be a child, to be in love, and to deal with loss.
And that’s the extraordinary thing about the show - by stripping the story of its artifice, you’re left with the pure emotions of the characters - their loves, fears, glories, hopes and losses. It makes for an intense, thought-provoking experience.
Stripped of the usual elements in a show, the play leans entirely on the considerable skill of the actors - you won’t see an "off" note in this ensemble - and the power of Wilder's script, which drives home the truly important, often overlooked things in life in a way that may shock you with its purity of spirit.
There’s a reason Our Town is considered a modern classic - it’s a story that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre. It speaks to us all - no matter how young or old you might be.
ARTS presents Our Town by Thornton Wilder at the Renaissance Ballroom at 900 8th Street in Huntington. The show runs Friday and Saturday, Feb. 6 and 7 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for the show only, $30 for dinner and the show. Reservations are required for dinner - call 304-733-2787.