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Our Town’ shows at Saint Mary’s

Jonathan Retartha | Friday, November 12, 2004

The production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” at Saint Mary’s College this weekend provides a slice of early 20th century Americana to 21st century college students. A play in the vein of “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Our Town” tells the story of the town of Grover’s Corners, N.H. at the turn of the century.

By placing a spotlight on a particular, isolated town, Wilder reveals both truths about early 20th century and universal truths about human existence that are applicable today. The play has three acts – Daily Life, Love and Marriage and Death.

The action in the three acts revolves around two families in Grover’s Corners – the Gibbs and the Webbs. Mr. Gibbs (Greg Melton) is the town doctor, and lives with his wife Julia (Monica Mastrocco). They have a daughter Rebecca (Maria Corso), and their son George (Terry Dana Jachimiak II) is one of the main characters in the play and a prominent figure in the town, being both captain of the baseball team and president of his senior class.

The Webb family consists of newspaper editor Charles Webb (Michael Kramer), his wife Myrtle (Betsy Brown) and their children Wally (Steve Shlakman) and Emily (Diane Pisani), the latter of whom becomes George Gibbs’s love interest.

The play is unique in that every action that takes place on stage is choreographed and scripted. Before the play begins the actors are seen warming up on stage and conversing amongst themselves, and the directors are seen going over things with people and fixing props. In between acts, the same applies. This creates the effect of making it hard to tell where reality stops and the acting begins.

The Stage Manager (Ashleigh Stochel) is the ringleader of this, existing at the same time in the world of the play and in the real world. She serves as a narrator of the action, but more in the sense of a Greek chorus or a Japanese benshi who philosophizes and muses about life and offers insight into the broader picture through her following of the citizens of Grover’s Corners. Her role by far is the biggest role in the play since she comments on almost every scene. Stochel does an excellent job of adding a slightly old-fashioned ring to her character that makes her fit in the world of the play, while also remaining modern enough so that her musings retain relevance to the modern audience.

Diane Pisani, as Emily, is another shining spot in the production. Pisani brings a bright, clear, ringing voice that makes you unable to resist sympathizing with her character, especially during the stirring death scene. She runs her character’s gamut of emotions with ease, and looks completely at home both on the stage and in the world of Grover’s’ Corners.

Terry Jachimiak, as George, does a good job at playing the shy, awkward card that blends well with Emily’s commanding personality. Both characters literally grow up in the span of two and a half hours, and the actors both give great efforts in making smooth transitions.

As is the case with Emily, George and the Stage Manager, the characters’ voices really make or break their characters. All of the actors have unique voices that fit their characters. While the roles of Dr. Gibbs and Mr. Webb are written very similarly (if only in their equal thinness), Melton and Kramer both bring uniqueness to their characters and help give them more depth than is contained in the script.

Monica Mastrocco as Mrs. Gibbs plays the typical loving mother very well, and is very believable as she screams upstairs to bring the children down for breakfast. Betsy Brown, as Mrs. Webb, offers a stark contrast, and plays off her daughter in a slightly more distant way. She is a bit more coarse and tough than Mrs. Gibbs, which reflects her age and helps add depth to the Death act.

The set design for the performance is very plain, mostly with a few wooden tables and chairs and some wooden platforms. The one set serves as the Gibbs and Webb households, the Congregational church, a soda shop and the cemetery. Props are also rare, but with good purpose. The actors are constantly reacting with invisible items and invisible buildings, which serves to emphasize the timelessness of the issues being dealt with.

In all, “Our Town” offers solid performances in what is generally a weakly written play character-wise. The most developed and depthful characters, the Stage Manager and Emily are played almost perfectly, and the strong efforts from the rest of the cast bring the other characters up to an equal level, even if they are not written as well. “Our Town” is a play about life, and the actors truly are the driving force in breathing life into the production.

Our Town performs in the Little Theatre at the Moreau Center for the Performing Arts at Saint Mary’s College at 7:30p.m. tonight and Saturday, with a Sunday matinee at 2:30. Tickets are $8.00 for adults, $7.00 for seniors and $5.00 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the box office.