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On the Town

A classic play is in good hands

Julia Proctor looks forward to love, marriage, and death.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 3/24/2010

Our Town

By Thornton Wilder

Through April 18 at Everyman Theatre 

Thornton Wilder's Our Town is a warm bath of a play. It's an oddly comforting little slice of a world long gone where happiness and even pain are nothing more than part of a cycle. The play's universal appeal was evident when walking into a packed house for a Sunday matinee on one of the first truly beautiful weekends in a long time. And Everyman's production, to overburden the metaphor, was a fluffy white towel, welcoming and accessible, but offering nothing to particularly elevate the work. It was nice, and sometimes nice is enough.

Our Town is a meditation on everyday life in a small town at the beginning of the 20th century. The town in question is Grover's Corners, NH. There, two families raise their children, those children grow up and get married, and even examine the existence of townspeople after they die. It is more portrait than play, a philosophical look at life in which the characters not only fail to change in any meaningful way, that lack of change is precisely the point. We all grow up, fall in love, and die. It started centuries ago and, global warming willing, it will continue for centuries to come.

For this production, Everyman partnered with the Baltimore School for Arts, and the result was a deep cast in which even the smallest parts were well acted. The students fit seamlessly into a cast that included notable local theater vets such as Bruce Nelson.

The parents stand out. Maia DeSanti and Emily Townley inhabited Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs, respectively, making each a fully realized human being simply by furrowing an eyebrow or offering a knowing smile. Their husbands, Mr. Webb (Morgan Duncan) and Dr. Gibbs (Nelson), were equally charismatic and fleshed out. And the chemistry within each couple was palpable.

In fact, these couples were so strong they overshadowed the play's central lovers Emily Webb (Julia Proctor) and George Gibbs (Matthew Schleigh). Proctor gives a breathy and enthusiastic performance as Emily, but never really goes beyond the school-girl paradigm. She is further hindered by a wig that appears to constrain her facial movements. Schleigh's George is even less multidimensional, coming across like a boy with no real interior life, and there is never a real sense of urgency to the pairing. You can argue that it speaks to the fact that these characters are young lovers rather than a particular set, and their performances aren't bad, but with the actors playing their parents bringing so much depth to their roles, Emily and George fall a bit flat.

And then there's Wil Love as the Stage Manager, a difficult role that essentially emcees the vignettes of life in Grover's Corners, part tour guide, part playwright, part omniscient overseer. Love is so easy, so effortless in the role that he is mentioned here last because it is easy to forget he was even acting.

The set is made to look like the backstage of a theater, complete with scuffed floors, haphazardly stacked chairs, and random objects stuffed under the stairs. In this production, as Wilder wrote it, most of the set and props are imagined or pantomimed. Director Donald Hicken had actors sitting at the back of the stage producing sound effects, like the sound of a horse clopping along or milk being delivered. It is a nice touch that adds another sensory level to the experience. And the fact that he never conspicuously draws attention to it makes a pleasantly subtle detail. It is, however, missed when it disappears at some point in the second half.

It's likely not a coincidence that Everyman Theatre chose to do Our Town in what it hopes will be its final season in the Station North Arts District before moving to the renovated Town Theatre downtown. It is a play that celebrates beginning, endings, and, above all, continuing on.

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