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Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Lisa del Rosso
Carol Rosegg ©2019 David Cromer as Stage Manager
The Barrow Street Theatre has been completely transformed for David Cromer’s brilliant production of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder; a re-imagining so astonishing that I had to dig out my copy and see what had been changed. The answer was nothing. But everything looked and sounded so fresh, so full of life and humor that it felt like a new play. That’s saying something, as “Our Town” was published in1938 and is performed often. The credit goes to director Cromer’s vision and his astonishing cast.
Where the stage once was, most of the audience now sits, and the stage is the ground level. The rest of the audience is on either side, while some are actually on the “stage,” but there really is no barrier between the two, and that is part of the genius of this production. “Our Town” is now a visceral experience, not removed, as it would be on a proscenium stage. All of that small-town living is up close and personal: it is us, our town, our people, our relationships, our loss. One is too close not to be moved by it all.
Carol Rosegg ©2019 The cast of David Cromer's staging of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" at Barrow Street Theater
A Stage Manager (Cromer himself) walks out and announces that the play takes place in 1901, Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, a place where “Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s’far as we know.” He guides us through the lives of the intertwined Gibbs and Webb family, particularly their children, George and Emily, who meet as teens, fall in love, and marry; then Emily dies at the age of twenty-eight, while giving birth to her second child. “Our Town” is in three acts, the third set after Emily’s death.
The plot is simple; this re-telling of it is not. It is difficult to single out anyone in this cast, because all are equally brilliant. “Our Town” is an ensemble piece, and never more so than in this production. As the Stage Manager, Cromer is a fine, capable actor who is generous and never intrusive. Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb (Lori Meyers and Kati Brazda) are both strong, sensible and no-nonsense, though Mrs. Gibbs dreams of traveling, if she can only get her workaholic husband to comply. Dr. Gibbs and Mr. Webb (Jeff Still and Ken Marks) are affable -- stern when need be -- and defer to their wives when necessary. As George Gibbs and Emily Webb, James McMenamin and Jennifer Grace both capture the awkwardness of adolescence and first love, as well as the hilarious terror of their wedding day. Equally fine are Jonathan Mastro’s booze-soaked choir director, Simon Stimson, and Ronette Levenson’s sulky, spunky Rebecca, George’s younger sister.
Emily is allowed, after her death, to relive one day in her life. The others in the cemetery advise her against it. Mrs. Gibbs, who died of pneumonia, says, “When you’ve been here longer, you’ll see our life here is to forget all that, and think only of what’s ahead, and be ready for what’s ahead.” Disbelieving, Emily chooses her twelfth birthday: her mother making breakfast, her father sipping fresh-made coffee, presents laid out. But she not only relives, she watches herself live it from the perspective of death, and that she cannot bear. Emily sobs, “I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.” There is much sense memory here to disturb, with visuals, sounds and smells. Emily goes back to her dead and says, “I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are! Just blind people.” In David Cromer’s beautifully realized production, everything is illuminated.