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Review: ‘Our Town’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Our Town, their first show at their new location on West Street, is a thoughtful, creative take on Thornton Wilder’s classic American play. Directed by Sally Boyett, it is performed in their smaller secondary theater, which will be used for their educational programming, while the larger main theater completes its construction. Great performances, direction, lighting, and an inventive use of space all combine to create an enchanting night of theater.

Patrick Ryan Sullivan (The Stage Manager) and Laura Rocklyn (Emily Webb). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Patrick Ryan Sullivan delivers a superb performance as the Stage Manager. He speaks directly to the audience, telling them about the small town of Grover’s Corners and its inhabitants. His evocative descriptions fill the nearly bare stage with the town, so that the audience can almost see the train tracks. At times he directs some of the other characters, gently sending them offstage or bringing them on; he has Professor Willard (Bill Dennison) and Mr. Webb (Brian Keith MacDonald) speak to the audience about the physical and political nature of Grover’s Corners. He waxes philosophical on many topics. He also has a wry sense of humor, pointing out the tables and chairs “for those who feel the need for scenery.” He has a pleasant, gentle manner about him, quickly ingratiating himself with the audience as he takes them on a journey through time.

Laura Rocklyn (Emily Webb). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

The play is about relationships, and none is more powerful than the one between George Gibbs (JC Payne) and Emily Webb (Laura Rocklyn). Watching their romance blossom is charming and sweet. From their initial conversation across their family’s lawn, with George asking Emily for homework help, to the moment they reveal their true feelings to each other – there is a sense of innocence and love about them.. They also give powerful performances during the wedding, both expressing a moment of fear, before remembering their love. They make what might otherwise be a clichéd moment feel absolutely genuine. Rocklyn’s emotions come quickly and always feel authentic. Payne gives a strong performance in Act III as well, giving a silent but dramatic expression to his grief.

Will Cooke and Renata Plecha play Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs with quiet strength. They are busy with work and raising children, but there is humor in their conversation about their wedding so many years earlier. The Gibbs are two of the play’s town elders, serving as good models for the young people. Plecha gives her strongest performances with Rocklyn, as the mother and daughter have an awkward conversation about whether Emily is pretty.

Olivia Ercolano and Brian Keith MacDonald are endearing as Mrs. and Mr. Webb. Later, in Emily’s childhood memory, Mrs. Webb plays a phantom of sorts, present, but not able to truly interact with Emily. It is a powerful moment.

Bill Dennison plays Simon Stimson, the choir leader, with humor – while hiding great pain. He makes many funny comments during choir practice, but his drunkenness gives concern to the whole town. His expression as he encounters Mr. Webb and the Constable (Patrick Ryan Sullivan) while stumbling home speaks volumes to his demons.

Kecia Campbell plays Mrs. Soames, an observer and commentator of several events. Her enthusiasm for George and Emily’s wedding is infectious, reminding people that, “The most important thing is to be happy.”

Costume Designer Sandra Spence really captured the early 20th century fashions. The women wear long skirts and tight, buttoned-up shirts, while the men wear dark suits and ties. As a boy, George wears a blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves and short pants, which go well with his baseball glove. For the wedding, George looks stunning in a black tux, and Emily beautiful in a white wedding dress.

JC Payne (George Gibbs) and Laura Rocklyn (Emily Webb). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Adam Mendelson has provided effective lighting, while Nancy Krebs has done a great job as Dialect Coach, giving the actors just the right New England accent.

Sally Boyett has utilized the intimate space perfectly. The actors enter from the corners of the stage, and move around naturally. Act III is staged creatively, providing some visual and staging delights and surprises.

Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s heartfelt production of Our Town is a Must See! During these difficult times it’s so nice to be reminded of how beautiful it was – in days gone by – in our country when mutual respect and love and caring filled our towns.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with two 10-minute intermissions.

Our Town plays through February 26, 2017, t Annapolis Shakespeare Company – 1804 West Street in Annapolis. For tickets, call the box office at 410-415-3513 or purchase online

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