Archikulture Digest

Our Town

Our Town

By Thornton Wilder

Directed by David Lee

Starring Chris Gibson, Jennifer Bonner, Jesse Lenoir

Beth Marshal Presents at The Garden Theatre, Winter Garden FL</strong>

Part ghost story, part replica of the American Dream, “Our Town” is one of those stories you either love or hate, but always end up seeing when the resources included a large cast and small production budget. Wilder purposefully made the show “stagey” when painted flats and realism where the order of the day, emphasizing words and actions over pretty pictures. We begin with the stage manager (Gibson) giving the cell phone and cellophane candy speech, introducing the cast, and removing the ghost light. Now we transport to rural America at the turn of the last century, where the scars of the Civil War lurk but the horror of Europe’s second Thirty Years War is still half a generation away. Children are born, mature, and recreate more children, and nothing more threatening than a rainy day or lost baseball game clouds the future. A comfortable income is available to all willing to work hard, exercise thrift and display civic gravitas. Of course, that idyll never existed, but we invoke it perennially whenever we feel badly as a nation. Elysium might be golden, but it must always lie just beyond reach.

There’s a plot, such as it is. Young George Gibbs (Lenoir) falls in love with the girl next door, Emily Webb (Bonner,) and nothing stands in their way. Money is no problem; there are no romantic rivals, fatal diseases, quests, towers to climb, or anything else much exciting. Their lives are paced by canning beans, ice cream sodas, chopping wood, and studying the speeches of Cicero. They don’t even have trouble booking a hall for the wedding, and by the second act they are playing man and wife, with no more guidance than any other couple. Then Emily dies, and learns post-mortem that she was having more fun than she thought. In other words, as soon as something drops away, you long for it.

While I’m no fan of this tension-free plot, the production was flawlessly executed and each individual gave an outstanding performance. Gibson is a natural for the Stage Manger; he exudes confidence no matter what he does. I was very impressed with Doug Ba’aser as Editor George Gibb. He was smooth and erudite, and displayed none of his reputation for modifying lines on the fly. Bonner and Lenoir were both sincere and seemed like an ideal teenage couple. They felt like they were in love, and yet displayed no interest in lust – somehow, that would be un-American. Mike Lane as the dissipate choir master Mr. Simons and Chris MacIntyre as Howie the Milkman added an slightly comic element, and Trennel Mooring as little sister Rebecca Gibb again proved she has a huge voice in her petite frame.

While we got a good look at the back wall of the Garden Theatre, there were some nice technical touches in the show. The Garden Theater’s opposing balconies came in handy for the evening discussions of algebra between Emily and George, as did the sparkly Ceiling of Stars. Lighting designer Amy Hadley did some real magic on the stage cluttered with chairs, she some how got the underside of the umbrellas in final funeral scene to glow pink underneath. The show even used some VERY small children on stage, and they all behaved perfectly.

Winter Garden has transformed itself from a small town citrus packing facility to a bedroom community in the sprawl of Central Florida, yet it’s still a conservative town and prides it self on what passes for family values in today’s world. “Our Town” fits nicely into that facet of the American dream, and the monthly classic car show one must navigate to get to the box office reinforces the ideal: the past is always better, because we remember the pleasure more easily than the pain. You don’t need a revolving stage to demonstrate that.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit http://www.myspace.com/gardentheatre or http://wgtheater.org


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