When I walked into the Reston Community Center at approximately 7:30 to see Reston Community Players’ production of Our Town, there was an immediate sense of theatricality that was taking effect. As I walked in, there were actors on stage warming up, stagehands clearing the stage, stage managers calling for “10,” things that one does not typically expect to see when going to see a show.
Of course, all of this fits the entire theme of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, in which the audience is made aware the entire time that this is, indeed, a play. When the lights went down and the two Stage Managers (played by Rick Kenney and Janet Kohler Dueweke) set the scene, we are transported to Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire and the play begins.
The play is divided into three acts in a time period that spans from 1901-1913. The first act deals with the daily life of the citizens of Grover’s Corners, with much focus on the Webb family and the Gibb family. The second act takes place three years later and deals with love and marriage. The final act is set nine years later and deals with death and loss. The sad, but moving third act of the piece reminds us to make the most of the time we have left on Earth and to cherish the little things in life.
I don’t think I need to mention how much of a staple Our Town is to the American theatre. I do need to mention that RCP’s production is simple, sweet, and often profound.
Much of the success of the production goes to first-time Director Alana D. Sharp who has not only assembled a wonderful ensemble of actors but has created an atmosphere that feels unalloyed and picturesque. This is, according to Sharp, her first time ever directing a production, but you wouldn’t know it. She has successfully captured the spirit of the production and Wilder (who was often a critic of productions of this show), I think, would have been proud.
Our Town is a show that doesn’t require a whole lot in terms of atmosphere. It’s usually done with very little to no set, and save for some prop pieces (such as a table and chairs), all of the props are pantomimed. One of the things I enjoyed were how the actors were able to make something from nothing, literally. Consider a scene towards the beginning between Mrs. Webb (Roberta Chaves) and Mrs. Gibbs (Mary Ann Hall); the two actresses say their dialogue while they pantomime knitting or gardening. The simple effect of nothing and the attention to detail by the two actresses feeds into the simplicity and charm of the play.
Kathy Dunlop’s costumes help to define the era of the piece. Ken and Patti’s lighting design effectively paint the colors for the town. I especially enjoyed the dark grey they chose for the scenes where it rains. And while there isn’t much of a set to work with (the set consists of two tall ladders that serve as Emily Webb and George Gibbs’ bedrooms and a moveable platform upstage that is a walkway for the citizens of the town), Andrew JM Regiec’s simplistic design is just right for the production.
As for the cast, well, it’s hard to single out any one member for their portrayals. Our Town is truly an ensemble show. As the title suggests, these characters are all part of a community. All of the characters feel a closeness to each to each other. With a cast of 19, this feels like a tight-knit group.
The Stage Manager is typically a role played by one person. In this production there are two. Mr. Kenney and Ms. Dueweke play off of each other very well and have a great chemistry on stage. The dialogue was also split very evenly between them and didn’t feel forced. While Our Town doesn’t necessarily have a main character, the one that people most remember is Emily Webb, played in this production by Lori Brooks. In the first two acts, Ms. Brooks convincingly exudes her youthful spirit and in the final act shows us great dramatic weight. Jarod Rouleau makes for a very innocent and charming George Gibbs; As Mr. and Mrs. Webb, Dennis McCafferty and Roberta Chaves play them with great fun and tenderness; Dr. Gibbs and Mrs. Gibbs are played by Dennis McCafferty and Mary Ann Hall have many nice moments.
Our Town is, arguably, the quintessential American play, and last night it was made clear to me why that’s the case. The play is almost 80 years-old, but still feels very fresh. The themes of life, love, community, and family are timeless. You see yourself, your friends, and your neighbors in these characters, which makes the play’s grim third act all the more heartbreaking.
Reston Community Players’ Our Town is a great show for the community, and should not be missed.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.
Reston Community Players’ Our Town plays through May 7, 2016 at the Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Rd, in Reston, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 703-476-4500 x 3, or purchase them online.