Review by Judith Robinson
The characters and situations in Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town, are a true to life depiction of a tightly-woven North American community, at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Shaw Festival’s production of the 1930’s drama is authentic, heart-wrenching and honest. The play was written to be delivered as an ensemble piece whereby the cast functions like a choir—singing a song in which everyone plays an essential role. Individual characters seldom stand out… Wilder is celebrating life itself – the trajectory of individuals is of secondary importance. Director, Molly Smith, does a fine job of conducting the choir in the manner the playwright intended. Photo courtesy of David Cooper
The mood and the tone are understated and ordinary—much like the rhythms of everyday life.
Here and there, there are bursts of light worth noting: the sincerity and compassion of Patrick Galligan as Dr. Gibbs; the enthusiasm of Jenny L. Wright as Mrs. Webb; the fun-loving spirit of Sharry Flett as Mrs. Soames; the sheer innocence of Charlie Gallant as George Gibbs and the wonderful sound effects of James Smith. All of these made the performance more appealing and captivating.
It’s the little kindnesses that bind the characters together and warm the audiences’ hearts—a woman helping her neighbour shell peas, the doctor staying up all night to deliver twins, the milkman lugging in heavy bottles of milk for the housewives, the choir members protecting the dark secrets of the conductor, and a diligent student helping her friend do his homework. These are people who protect and honour one another and who deserve to be honoured themselves.
In the third act, Wilder’s genius is fully illuminated as the camera pulls back and the audience catches a glimpse of life from a universal perspective. The main character, Emily Webb, played by Kate Besworth, reflects on her life from the grave after her early death from childbirth. She delivers one of the most powerful speeches in the twentieth century canon of American theatre. “It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another…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?”
Although the actions and the characters in this play seem ordinary, and at times mundane, they are the stuff of life. And this play rightly celebrates them—and all of us.
“Our Town” is playing at the Royal George Theatre, in Niagara on the Lake, until October 15th.