By Mary Boyle
Our area of the world is blessed to have a number of community theatre companies in very close proximity, and West Bend Theatre Company is one of them. Founded in 2010 by Nancy Storrs, the company is known for their annual production of A Christmas Carol, which will return after a pandemic-induced hiatus, this season, but have also produced two other shows each season. In their first post-pandemic season, the company, said Storrs, "wanted to do shows that have meaning and power, just in case you don't remember what is awesome about life." For their first production, they chose the American, Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, OUR TOWN.
Written by Thornton Wilder in 1938, Our Town is a three act, bare bones play about a small town in New Hampshire called Grover's Corners at the turn of the 20th Century. The play focuses on two families, the Gibbs and the Webbs, and their teenage children, George and Emily, who fall in love. The play is Americana at its finest; a seemingly simple look at the lives of seemingly average people in a seemingly simple time. And yet, the story could not be any more profound or timeless, and is most certainly a story people need to hear now more than ever.
Jim Johnson, who makes his directorial debut at the WBTC, had the honor of playing Editor Webb in a production of the play at Sheboygan Theatre Company several years back, and now has the honor of directing his son, Ben Johnson, who will be playing George Gibbs. He directs a cast of 20, which is quite large, even for this play, but he had so many great auditions that he wanted to make sure he found a spot for everyone. In an unusual twist, Johnson breaks from canon and has not only cast the omniscient Stage Manager as a woman, but he has split the role in two, casting Elizabeth Plotka-Heinen as a younger and feminine Stage Manager, as well as Don Pountain (who will reprise his role as Ebenezer Scrooge in WBTC's upcoming production of A Christmas Carol) as the classic figure those familiar with the play would expect in the role.
The theater space for the production is also unique. The intimate West Bend Masonic Center has seating on both sides of the "stage," with no traditional stage left or right exits, making the staging quite of any production somewhat challenging. Luckily, the cast and crew are quite familiar with the space and they have used the layout to their advantage.
The star of this production is absolutely Kimberly Laberge, as Emily Webb, a theatre student at UWM who has worked in all aspects of theatre with multiple companies in the area. This is quite fitting, as it is the Emily who brings the audience to their knees as she takes them on a journey into death and what we might learn when we look back upon our lives:
Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? — Every, every minute?
Other cast members include Eleanor Wells as Rebecca Gibbs, Angie Rodenkirch as Mrs. Gibbs, Robb Bessey as Doc Gibbs, Naomi Tiefel as Mrs. Webb, Mike Shelby as Editor Webb, Devin Gehrke as Howie Newsome, Don Held as Constable Warren, Kaitlin Kroplidlowski as Professor Willard and Mrs. Soames, Sothaviney Pheng as Simon Stimson, Jennifer Dysert as Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Slocum, Pam Drake as Miss Corcoran, Karley Birenbaum as Si Crowel, and Cody Provencher as Wally Webb, along with Nina Pfeng, Olivia Terwiler, Tatiana Patrick, and Andrew Tiefel.
OUR TOWN runs October 8-10 and 15-17 at the West Bend Masonic Lodge, located at 301 N. University Drive. Tickets for the performance are $21, with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity of Washington and Dodge Counties, and are available to purchase online at www.westbendtheatreco.com/
About West Bend Theatre Company
West Bend Theatre Company is a nonprofit community theater company in West Bend, Wisconsin, presenting live theater, camps, workshops and special events. For more than 10 years, the WBTC has annually produced Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol.” In 2017, the WBTC achieved nonprofit status; since then, they have produced other theatre favorites, including “South Pacific,” “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”