note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Beverly Creasey
How fitting to stage a play set in the beginning of the 20th century at the very end of it. Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" actually transcends age and time, depicting life --- and death --- as a series of passages. Wilder's 1938 masterpiece was attacked by the left for its bourgeois sensibilities, and no less a "critic" than Eleanor Roosevelt said the play depressed here!
Wilder reduces life to its most simple elements: the atoms of birth, daily life, marriage, and death....all narrated by an affable stage manager who ushers in a scene here, a ladder there. The truly remarkable thing about "Our Town" is the great humanity which rises from those atoms as if it's being released with the evaporation of each scene.
Wheelock lovingly recreates the original 1938 Jed Harris production with its spare stage and even sparer staging. Anthony Hancock's "empty" set takes the eye to the back wall of the theater --- just like the photographs of the original --- with its dark mahogany beams and row upon row of grey radiator grids. Susan Kosoff directs each section --- there are three acts --- as if :Our Town" were a symphony. The first act, where we meet the two principal families, ticks along as if a metronome were counting out the beat; the second, where we see courtship and marriage, is more like a lilting waltz; and Act III moves more slowly, like a dirge. Even the actors seem to speak in musical tones when portraying the dead.
"Our Town" is anchored by a sage stage manager, here portrayed with a twinkle in his eye by Jeff Robinson. It's the kind of performance you think about later: so honest and folksy you imagine he stepped right out of a country store and wandered over to Wheelock to spend some time. Kosoff has assembled an impressive company, with fine ensemble acting. James Bodge gives a warm, wry performance as the town's caring doctor; Kippy Goldfarb is charming as his patient, understanding wife. Britton White, as their son, makes the journey from childhood to manhood in deft form. Dan Bolton makes the milkman a sweet, old fashioned fella. Robert Prescod gets to harumph as a stuffy professor. John Devaney and Yasmin Dixon head the other family Wilder highlights to represent the "best" of us. Erik Dickinson brings a haunting desperation to his choirmaster, and Jane Staab makes the gossip a universal character. Wesley Lawrence Taylor makes the constable compassionate and human. Each person in the town has something to make them "real".
From Steven Rosen's soft, country lighting (especially in the rain) to Andrew Aldous' clever sound effects --- rattle of milk bottles or thud of a ball on a leather glove --- to Robin McLaughlin's muted costumes, this "Our Town" is a quiet pleasure, like the sunsets described by the stage manager. Kudos to Wheelock. The town they create really looks like my town!