By Mary Boyle
Written in 1938 by Wisconsin native Thornton Wilder, Our Town won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and has been a mandatory part of middle and high school literary curriculums, as well as a mainstay of stages everywhere, ever since. Though the play takes place at the turn of the century—a time nobody alive today has actually seen—the mythical town in New Hampshire called Grover's Corners, and the characters who live in it, continue to be examined, discussed, reimagined, and loved. The Milwaukee Repertory Theater, like most theatre companies, is no stranger to this play; this will be their fourth production of this American classic, which will serve as a worthy finale to The Rep's 64th Season.
Directed by Brent Hazelton, The Rep's Our Town boasts a cast of 31 actors, with many of Milwaukee's finest among them, including Laura Gordon, who takes her turn as the Stage Manager. Traditionally played by a man, Gordon brings a depth of emotion to this role that pulls even harder on the heartstrings of the audience than this character typically achieves. Other Milwaukee favorites, such as Carrie Hitchcock (recently seen as Miss Hannigan in Annie at Skylight) Jonathan Smoots (often seen in A Christmas Carol at The Rep), Jonathan Wainwright (who was brilliant in The Rep's Of Mice and Men), James Ridge of APT fame, and James Pickering (who was recently seen in The Outgoing Tide at In Tandem) seem underutilized in the production, which is a testament to how important the play is; they play Professor Willard, Joe Stoddard, Farmer McCarty, Simon Stinson, and Constable Warren, respectively.
The Webb and Gibb families, of course, are the main focus of the play. Rána Roman (who we saw earlier this season as Yum-Yum in Hot Mikado at Skylight Music Theatre) is Mrs. Webb, mother to Emily (Cher Desiree Alvarez) and Wally (Zachary Church, who was Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas at First Stage earlier this season), and the wife of Mr. Webb (Matt Zambrano, who was hysterical in The Foreigner at The Rep last season). Elizabeth Ledo is Mrs. Gibbs, mother to George (DiMonte Henning) and Rebecca (Selma Rivera), and wife of Dr. Gibbs (Chiké Johnson, who was also in Of Mice and Men at The Rep). Aside from the Stage Manager, Emily and George are the main characters of the play, and Alvarez and Henning both give outstanding performances—they are as precious and heartbreaking as young love can be.
Our Town is unusual, especially for its time, in that it doesn't pretend that it isn't a play. The stage is clearly a stage, and a sparsely filled one, at that. The Stage Manager is right there on the stage, stopping scenes and moving the play forward and backward in time, addressing the audience directly. Actors drink from imaginary cups and open imaginary doors, and yet...there is, perhaps, never a play more real than this one. At its surface, Our Town is nostalgic; a slice of Americana and a simpler time we all long for, though most have never experienced it. Without taking it too seriously, the play could be summed up by a number of proverbs proclaiming that life is short and to enjoy every minute of it. Below the surface, though, there is something more; something that calls theatres everywhere to try and find. Yes, life is short, and it is beautiful, and we all take it for granted constantly; but, this play forgives you for it, because the Stage Manager understands something most of us do not: if we really did stop to think about, and appreciate, just how beautiful and short life is, we would not be able to go on living—it would be too heartbreaking to try. Our Town is absolution, and The Rep delivers it beautifully.
Our Town runs through May 13th at the Quadracci Theater, located within the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased by calling (414) 224-9490, in-person at the Box Office, or online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com.
The Milwaukee Rep recently announced its 65th Season, which will be the largest season in over a decade, featuring 15 productions across four venues with nearly 700 performances, including expanded programming in the Stiemke Studio. The lineup includes Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony-winning musical, In the Heights; the World Premier ofMark Twain's River of Song and, back by popular demand, Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, at the Stackner Cabaret; August Wilson's Two Trains Running; and, Milwaukee's favorite holiday tradition, A Christmas Carol. Subscription packages are on sale now!
About The Rep
In its 64th Season, Milwaukee Repertory Theater is dedicated to providing the highest level of professional theater to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, in addition to offering a wide range of educational and community programs. Under the leadership of Artistic Director, Mark Clements, and Managing Director, Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee's rich diversity.