The Review is in! A sound endorsement of Leigh Oswin's excellent direction and that of the committed and professional cast and crew. Thanks so much Jeff Hockley.
Three River Theatre, 13 September, 2018
- Jeff Hockley
‘Pretty ordinary town, if you ask me,’ says Mr Webb in Thornton Wilder’s play ‘Our Town’. He couldn’t be further from the truth. In director Leigh Oswin’s capable hands, and given Three River’s production values, ‘Our Town’ transcends the ordinary to become a place of extra-ordinary complexity. Written in 1938 the play has taken an equally extraordinary 80 years to reach us, despite being the most widely performed play in the USA. It’s hard to explain why this Pulitzer Prize winner hasn’t been seen here as Grover’s Corner could just as easily be our home town too. But the theme of the play is universal and Oswin has wisely broken the small-town barrier to give depth to the issues contained within the society of characters in the play.
There’s not much plot to work with though, which puts a lot of pressure on the actors and their ability to make what seems mundane into something memorable. Life in the play is made up of many mundane ordinary moments and we don’t appreciate them until it is too late. Oswin has drilled his cast to catch those moments so the surprise and tragedy which unfolds does not become sentimental but memorable. A single imposed sentence in the play about our own modern time issues jolts us out of historic sentimentality.
Acting as a kind of tour guide throughout is Kerri Gay. Wilder suggests a dryness of tone for this character simply called ‘Stage Manager’. There is no way that Ms Gay is ever going to do that and it is just as well – she clearly loves the town and its people. She laughs and cries with them, shares jokes with them and cares deeply about their lives. It is she alone who stops the play descending into a saccharine fairy tale with narrator, and she works the script and stage brilliantly. Her mountain top speech in Act 3 is acting and story telling at its very best and it alone is worth the price of admission.
Debbie Parish, too, shares in the acting credits, and her ‘goodbye’ speech, also in Act 3, is beautifully studied and the crowning point of her acting/character journey through the play. ‘Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? - every, every minute?’ she says, encapsulating the play in just one perfectly spoken line.
The rest of the cast, too many to name, form a strong cohesive ensemble with an assured ability to present Wilder’s strong poetic passages. They mostly reveal the soul of their parts even if there is sometimes not a lot of deep feeling. Most are graduates or current performing arts students of UTAS which says a lot about their studies and their role in community theatre.
The other production elements are equally good, with perfectly executed costumes and hairstyles, a naturalistic soundscape, and atmospheric lighting to complement the staging.
At the end of the play one has to say that the experience of seeing it was strangely exhilarating. Not bad for a play which explores the commonplace, and ordinary.
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