If you are one of those people who fell in love with George and Emily and the people of Thornton Wilder's play “Our Town” in high school or some time long ago then you need to see it again. If you have never seen it then you are in for a singular treat. As it happens The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has once again taken a favorite old play and brought it back to life in a wonderful way. The company's production of this most beloved play is a perfectly paired down and raw version that sticks true to the playwright's original vision of the piece. And the show and its director and cast make a great argument for needing to see this play in every stage of your life because it speaks new truths at every stage.
Joe Discher decided to get as close as he could to what Wilder envisioned through his notes and stage directions within the text. It was a marvelous way to go with it. The stage is simple and because it is so simple it is enchanting. It not only allows the actors total freedom to embody their characters and use the language and their talent alone to convey the story, but it also forces the audience to be in the back of the theater with the characters and the Stage Manager imagining the embellishments of a real town as the characters describe it or pantomine it. It is exquisite in its simplicity and it draws the audience deeper into the play.
The Stage Manager, whose job it is to use basically his voice and a few gestures here and there to enchant with his narration and descriptions of the town and the people in it, is played to perfection by Philip Goodwin. He sounds like a cross between a favorite old uncle or grandfather and a great orator like Mark Twain or Will Rogers. He is entertaining and charming as he weaves the tale of the play and makes us care about the people of the town as he introduces us to them. He is also in almost every single scene in the play, which means he has most of the weight of the show on his shoulders and he does not disappoint.
The main focus of the play is the love story between George Gibbs, played by Jordan Coughtry and Emily Webb, played by Nisi Sturgis. These two actors grow from youngsters to newlyweds and beyond over the course of play. There is a wonderful chemistry between them. They are cute as they play shy and awkward kids and there are some delightful scenes as they begin to fall in love. Coughtry is funny and charming as he plays the awkward suitor. Sturgis is especially touching as she shows her vulnerability in some of the deeper moments of the play. Her eyes are captivating as they tear up. We fall for George and Emily because these actors bring out the characters' hearts for us to hold onto with their portrayals of these young lovers.
Malachy Cleary does a fine job as Dr. Gibbs. He brings both humor and gravitas as appropriate to the role of the town doctor, husband and father of two – one of whom is the eventual bridegroom.
Marion Adler is delightful as Mrs. Gibbs. She is funny and sweet. She reminds one of many mothers we've seen – giddy and serious, strong and vulnerable – she is fun to watch and yet she also touches us deeply in the end.
Allison Daughtry is equally funny and vulnerable as Emily's mother Mrs Webb, the wife of the town newspaper editor.
The scenes with both mothers side-by-side preparing meals and keeping their families organized are wonderfully choregraphed and played to perfect by these two actresses. Their use of pantomine is very effective and most mesmerizing.
Rounding out the role of the parents is James Michael Reilly as Mr. Webb, the newspaper editor and father of the bride. He is witty and charming and plays the uncomfortable father-in-law with a subtle humor that is very entertaining.
Rebecca Gray Davis as Rebecca Gibbs and Isaac Allen Miller as Wally Webb are good as the younger siblings of George and Emily. Davis is especially funny as she bugs George while he is trying to talk through the window to Emily late at night.
There are a number of memorable performances among the remaining townfolk.
Jake Berger is quite funny as the milk man Howie Newsome. One scene in particular has him using pantomine to have the cow Bessie knock his hat off his head. It looked as if something had really knocked the hat off even though there was no actual cow on stage.
Mark H. Dodd is very subtle, serious and yet quite funny as the drunkard choir master Simon Stinson. Eileen Glenn is very funny as the gossipy Mrs. Soames, who talks to the audience as if they were sitting next to her in church.
Jeff Gonzalez is good as the paperboy Joe Cromwell and also Joe's younger brother Si Cromwell. Glenn Beatty as Professor Willard, Terence Gleeson as Constable Warren, Justin R. Waldo as Sam Craig, Joseph Hamel as Joe Stoddard, Jean Burton Walker as A Woman Among the Dead and Edward McEneaney as Mr. Carter are all good and contribute well to this fine cast and brilliant production.
If it's been a while since you visited “Our Town,” now is the time to go back and visit it again. If you have never seen it then you really need to go. You will love the people there and will carry them in your heart forever.
The show runs through Nov. 17 at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Ave., Madison. For tickets or further information contact the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit on the web at www.ShakespeareNJ.org.