Originally reviewed for GaySocialites.com.
Director David Cromer’s revival of Thornton Wilder’s haunting evocation of a small New Hampshire town at the turn of the last century is intimate, even a bit claustrophobic. Between the years of 1901 and 1913, change comes slowly to the town of Grover’s Corners, and a stage manager (originally played by Cromer himself, now Jason Butler Harner, with great dryness) shows us scenes of the townspeople’s daily lives, loves and deaths.
Cromer, however, has the cast dress in 21st century rehearsal clothes, with only slight evocations of period dress. No noticeable Yankee accents, either.
He’s staged the action amongst the audience, sometimes having actors performing within inches of a given audience member’s face. It’s hard to single out any one performance for praise in this production, so strong is the sense of ensemble playing. Cromer’s aim seems to be to make the play as immediate as possible, and he’s succeeded admirably.
This approach also strips away the sentimentality of most productions of Our Town. Most noticeably, many of the town’s adult males are portrayed as hard-nosed, grimly provincial and even intolerant, instead of most productions’ strong silent types with hearts of gold.
This brings into stark relief the plight of alcoholic church organist Simon Stimson (Jeremy Beiler) — in this production he reads as distinctly gay, but completely repressed, destroyed by a complete lack of any avenue for expression of his true nature. Except, that is, through the tortured, dissonant piano music he plays at various points throughout the evening.
Cromer has even made the evening’s biggest chestnut, a scene late in the play bidding farewell to Grover’s Corners, into something freshly exciting, even sensual.
This Our Town may be innovative, but it’s also highly successful. On Wednesday, December 16, performance #337 will make this staging the longest-running Our Town in the 71-year worldwide history of the classic play. The announcement was made by Tappan Wilder, the playwright’s nephew and the literary executor of his uncle’s intellectual properties.
According to Tappan, there have been “tens of thousands” of productions/licenses of Our Town that have been performed in more than 26 countries and translated into 22 languages. The longest-running of those productions was the original 1938 Broadway version. Personally, I heartily hope that Tappan was right when he said, “this production will most certainly have a lasting effect on future versions of Our Town around the world.”
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