Apr 16, 2012 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Near the start of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Our Town,” newspaper editor Charlie Webb admitted that not much of anything happens in Grover’s Corners, NH.
“The people here are a little better-behaved than most,” he said. “Perhaps a little duller…There’s not much culture.”
As a result, such occurrences as the arrival of the milkman, deliveries by the paperboy and the teasing of baseball teammates stand out as some the play’s most memorable moments.
Those, and the unabashed thrill Mrs. Soames experiences at weddings.
An earnest cast of more than two dozen players give a reverential reading of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Our Town,” running through April 22 at the Catherine Cummings Theatre at Cazenovia College.
Directed by artist-in-residence David Lowenstein, the production adheres faithfully to Wilder’s insistence on minimalism. The intentional lack of props and scenery keeps the focus squarely on human interaction. In fact, Lowenstein actually augments Wilder’s humanism with two daring alterations.
First, he did away with the male stage manager – that meaty role so well-fulfilled by actors such as Bill Holden, Hal Holbrook and Paul Newman – and replaced him with five varied actresses who converse with us casually to set each scene.
Then, with a nod to modern America’s increasingly diverse population, Lowenstein cast several actors of color in primary roles. While this choice initially strains the audience’s suspension of disbelief, those discomforting reactions fade as soon as the actors show how well they fit their roles.
The two most central characters are the young couple, Emily Webb and George Gibbs, played by Kendra Valliere and Jedai Stevens respectively. Stevens’ performance is deep and measured, as his character faces the challenges of household chores, career decisions and a blossoming romance. Valliere’s Emily also runs the gamut, from wild-eyed romance to fear of commitment to the resignation of mortality.
Because Wilder’s play has no props and little scenery, the acting has got to be good. Thankfully, the Cummings production has plenty.
The five stage managers – Cheryl Chapman, Brighid Docherty, Stacia Godkin, Michele Lindor and Sonja Skalecki – act in ensemble as they lay out the exposition, and they do so with the aplomb of neighborhood coffee-klatchers.
Kevin Mann’s saintly Dr. Gibbs is complemented by Athena Kochilaris’ peevish Mrs. Gibbs, while Siobhan Kiernan delights both the eye and the ear as their daughter, Rebecca, George’s little sister.
As Myrtle Webb, Maxzine Smith imbues her character with welcome warmth as she oversees her family of editor-father, teenaged Emily and younger son Wally, played by Roger Pichardo. As Mr. Webb, Stewart Weisman shines as an observant journalist and wise, loving father.
With his backwards baseball cap, Angelo Annotto portrays Joe the newsboy, and overall Ricky Teal is convincing as milkman Howie Newsome. Eric Feola plays multiple roles including a generous soda jerk and a bow-tied professor.
In fact, a couple of the show’s most pleasing performances are small ones.
Willie Kiernan’s Constable Warren is so laconic, every humble phrase he utters seems to echo from Mt. Sinai.
Michael Fernandez is the perfect picture of cynicism as Simon Stimson, the alcoholic organist and hard-to-please leader of the church choir. Even death can’t quell his sardonic sarcasm.
But the showstopper is Renee Joseph as Mrs. Soames, who gushes uncontrollably in the wedding scene and later reminisces about it from the grave. The smile that sparkles between her tears seems to stretch all the way from stage left to stage right.
Of course, “Our Town” resonates with every itty bitty burg in America. Its universal themes about life’s simple pleasures and their fleeting nature speak to all of us. That’s why it won a Pultizer. But Cazenovia should be particularly proud of this production, not only because it takes some chances, but because it brings the community together. The performers come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Kelly Bragg, for instance, is a freshman at Cazenovia High School. Rosalyn Carroll is a mother of two from Manlius. Sydney Dennison is a heavily scheduled Caz H.S. frosh who appeared in the school’s recent production of “State Fair.” Suzanne Hopkins Bixby, the top marketer for the Campground Owners of New York State, hails from DeRuyter.
Lydia Kelly is a seventh-grader at Manlius-Pebble Hill School, and Morgan Maliga is a sixth-grader at Immaculate Conception School in Fayetteville.
“Our Town” will be staged at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21, and closes at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at the Catherine Cummings Theatre, 16 Lincklaen St.
Admission costs $10 for adults; $5 for students 18 and younger; and $3 for Cazenovia Collegestudents; 655-7238.
Russ Tarby is a contributing writer at Eagle Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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