Cast members in The Grand’s production of "Our Town" provide a musical interlude in a poignant show about life in a small New England town at the turn of the last century. PHOTO COURTESY OF NICK NAVARRE

‘Our Town’ a Grand place to visit



Review by Nan Lincoln

ELLSWORTH — “Our Town,” Thorton Wilder’s poignant play about life in a small New England town at the turn of the last century, is, of course, the perfect play for a community theater in a small New England town to stage.

That having been said, care must be taken not to take the material for granted in a “we’ve got this” sort of way.

The cast, crew and director of The Grand Auditorium’s production of “Our Town,” which opened last weekend, are, to use another current phrase, “all in” on this one. The cast, every man, woman and child, is deeply committed to telling this lovely, bittersweet story about life, love and death in a time that was simpler, but in many ways, not so very different from our own.

Carrying a large portion of the responsibility for telling this tale is Jim Pendergist as The Stage Manager, who breaks through the fourth wall of the stage to address the audience directly, helping us conjure the town of Grover’s Corner, N.H., on a near empty stage and introduce its citizens — the Webb and Gibbs families, Warren, the neighborhood constable, Howie the milkman, the paper boys, Joe and Si Crowell, and so forth.

Pendergist struggled with his lines from time to time at Saturday night’s performance, but he covered it well and brought all the proper folksy gravitas needed for this role.

Every member of the Gibbs and Webb families does a fine job of realizing their characters.

Tracy Green brings an honest warmth and motherly affection to her role as Julia Gibbs. As her husband, the town doctor, Randall Simons is just the sort of person you’d want giving medical advice and, later, life advice to his nervous son George (Bradey Kelly) on his wedding day.

We first meet George as a gawky, goofy adolescent clearly smitten by his pretty next-door neighbor Emily Webb (Aliza Dwyer). In the course of the three-act play, we watch these kids mature into thoughtful, responsible adults and their childhood crush evolve into love.

The rest of the Webb family is made up of the Torrances — Jennifer and Josh as Emily’s mom and dad, Myrtle and Charles, and Noah as her younger brother, Wally. A fourth family member, Sophie Torrance, has skipped next door to play George Gibbs’ strong-willed little sister Rebecca.

The entire Torrance family does a fine job with their roles, but Jennifer is a stand out as Myrtle Webb, a stern and efficient homemaker who has trouble expressing the love she feels for her children, but secretly weeps on the eve of Emily’s wedding.

There are no hand props in this play, so the actors must pantomime such things as reading the paper, snapping beans, drinking their coffee or ice cream sodas and delivering the milk. They all do a great job helping us imagine what they are up to, but Jennifer Torrance is especially notable for preparing an entire dinner, stage left, while the spotlight is on the family next door. That was terrific acting, and kudos to director Nick Turner for this and many other nicely crafted moments throughout the play.

Kudos also to sound board operator Seneca Maddocks-Wilbur for letting us hear what we couldn’t see — milk bottles rattling, a horse’s whinny, a newspaper unfolding — at precisely the right moment.

And speaking of precisely right, Rebecca Wright’s costuming in this play is so good it almost steals every scene. There are George’s clunky black shoes and suspenders, the women’s shirtwaist dresses and aprons, and The Stage Manager’s waistcoat and wingtip shoes. One outfit after another: Emily’s diaphanous wedding dress, her mother’s gorgeous blue taffeta mother-of-the-bride gown with its leg o’ mutton sleeves, the boys’ knickers and the milkman’s jacket. All are absolutely perfect for the era and for making us forget the absence of any scenery.

Emory Robotham as the bloviating professor Willard is a hoot and a half, pontificating on every aspect of life in Grover’s Corner, bringing to mind actor John Lithgow.

And there’s a lovely musical interlude in the scene that introduces us to the depressed and drunken choirmaster — a nicely understated performance by Paul Markosian.

On opening weekend, pacing throughout needed to pick up to keep the audience from getting fidgety, but all in all, “Our Town” is a fine place to visit.

“Our Town” will have four more performances at the Grand, next weekend, Oct. 27-29, with 7 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. For reserved seating tickets, call 667-9500 or visit www.grandonline.org.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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