TOP’s Our Town displays the momentousness of everyday life

Taking a break from Shakespeare, the Theatrical Outreach Program (TOP) presented Thornton Wilder’s Our Town this weekend in Collins Auditorium. Their sterling production proved that life and death in an American small town can have as much dramatic weight as any classic tragedy. Set in fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, the play centers on George Gibbs and Emily Webb, two young kids who strike up a friendship when Emily helps George with his algebra homework. The relationship deepens over the next couple of years, but George’s foolish pride hampers progress. Once the duo works these issues out, they marry right out of high school. Tragedy strikes in the ensuing decade, and in the end Emily realizes things can never go back to the idyllic way they used to be. The proceedings are overseen by a Stage Manager, who guides the audience through George and Emily’s story. Wilder wanted this play to be presented in a bare bones style, and directors Emily Hill and Rachel Sternlicht stuck with this approach. The scenery was minimal (only a couple of chairs and tables), and there were no props- the characters mime all their actions. This sparseness also extended to the staging, which was particularly powerful during a funeral scene in the third act. The one concession to glamor was the costumes, which were early 20th century chic. The suspender-clad Jane Skapek was a phenomenal Stage Manager. The role calls for a lot of monologue, and she was more than up to the task. She was also adept at breaking the fourth wall, whether when giving stage directions or subbing in as a priest or soda shop owner. Liam Paris was an appropriately awkward George, who, like many young men before him, finds it difficult to profess his love. As his intended, Mary Kate O’Toole made Emily bookish without being annoying, which deepened the audience’s emotional investment in her plight in Act 3. Both sets of parents had their time to shine. Elizabeth Finn and Molly Carney were gossipy, caring mothers, whose deep love for their children is abundantly clear. As George’s stern father, Daniel Matthews made his speech about responsibility cut as sharply as a knife. Max Beyer was his manic opposite as Emily’s dad- his conversation with George on the boy’s wedding day is the show’s funniest moment. Our Town seems like a dated play, because people don’t live like the residents of Grover’s Corners anymore. This weekend, however, TOP showed that the work still has relevance and power, and is well worth considering with fresh eyes.