If you need a reminder of what a classic play can achieve, you should stop by UC's College-Conservatory of Music this weekend to see the drama program's production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Faculty member Diane Kvapil has directed a sturdy version of the show that leans a little more than I like in the direction of humor, but nevertheless shows off why the show won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for drama and remains a staple of theater companies more than 60 years later. The portrait of life, marriage and death in a New England town has timeless meaning — despite the early 20th century setting. These are emotions, attitudes and feelings that are universal. Or at least universally American.
The show is set simply on a planked, sloped floor backed by a cyclorama that allows projections of clouds — sunny day clouds, early morning sky, thunderstorms — as well as stars. It's atmosphere in the purest sense, accented very occasionally with 19th-century photos of a town like Grover's Corner and some contemporary photos of the cast made to look antique.
Kvapil has coached her student actors to play for smiles, especially Alec Silberblatt as the usually avuncular Stage Manager. Here, he's more a humorist, too smiley and jokey, it seemed to me. Not that lines have been changed, but too often the softer emotions are rubbed away by a wry twist to a line. Nevertheless, there's genuine emotion evoked when Act II's wedding is celebrated (preceded by the lovely flashback to George and Emily's courtship) as well as the life-after-death observations in Act III following Emily's passing.
I'm glad to have seen this production and be reminded of the show that was my first introduction to performing, when I was cast as milkman Howie Newsome in a high school production in 1963. I hope you get a chance to see this one, too. For tickets, call CCM at 513-556-4183.
(Photo from CCM's Our Town by Mark Lyons)