Jeff Green | May 14, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - May 14, 2009 Our TownBy Wilma Kenny
Our Town was performed last week at Sydenham High School, directed by Theatre Arts teacher Dan Raponi. Although Thornton Wilder's script is a popular one for student drama groups, it's a surprisingly hard play to perform well, particularly for a troupe that's honed their skills on comedies. There's humour in Our Town, but it's not the split-second timing, door-slamming kind. It's the quiet, incidental humour of everyday life, sometimes carrying serious or sad undertones.
The storyline is not always sequential, and is often broken by the stage manager's (played by Megan Tidman) commentaries. The set is minimal: the actors must mime opening and closing doors, preparing and eating food, even petting the milkman's horse. The SHS troupe more than met the challenges, with performances that deserved much larger audiences.
The first act introduces Grover's Corners, a small New Hampshire town in the early 1900s. We see a day in the life of two families, the Webbs (Julie Sleeth and Dylan Parsons), and the Gibbs (Ana Donifer-Hickie and Danny McLaren,) Events and people are ordinary: the paperboy (Fleet Brown), the milkman (Joey Pugh), the policeman (Nick Jensen), the choirmaster (Geoff Hull) and the village gossip (Lauren Hammond). We're treated to brief lectures on the social and geological history of the town, and reminded throughout of the larger perspectives of weather, stars, and gradually eroding mountains. The stage manager introduces the Gibbs and the paperboy by telling us of their deaths, many years in the future.
The second act is about the courtship and marriage of George Gibbs (Curtis Law) and Emily Webb (Jillian Walker).
The third act, in contrast, is almost too painful to watch. It's set in the graveyard, where we recognize Mrs. Gibbs, young Wally Webb, and several others among the dead who sit there passively, waiting for eternity. It's a shock to learn that young Emily, whose wedding we watched a few minutes earlier, has died during childbirth, and the funeral procession that enters is for her. Emily tries, in spite of the warnings from the other dead, to revisit a day from her childhood. "Do any human beings," she asks, when she returns to the graveyard, "ever realize life while they live it? - every, every minute?"
The final scene belongs to the stage manager, who advises us all to go home and get a good night's rest. It's a subdued audience that files out, many perhaps resolving to pay more attention to the ordinary little things of everyday life.
Although the performance was anchored by five experienced actors (Tidman, Law, Donifer-Hickie, Parsons and Hammond) who gave strong performances at the Sears Drama Festival last month, all of the cast was excellent: in character, on cue, and convincing.
Backstage, a large and efficient production crew kept things running smoothly. Lighting and sound were excellent. Costumes (especially hats!) were splendid, thanks to the generosity of Thousand Islands Theatre and hard work of staff member Linda Bates, who combined the backstage roles of costume mistress and hairdresser. Male cast members did not cut their hair during the two months of rehearsal, to achieve a more 'period' look.
The program showed strong support from community businesses. Speaking from the (perhaps) not totally objective perspective of a
journalist embedded in the makeup department, it was a terrific show, all around: thanks to Raponi and crew for including me!