Tears await you in UT's current staging of the Thornton Wilder classic
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., April 9, 2010
Oscar G. Brockett Theatre,
Through April 11
Running time: 2 hr., 15 min.
You know how when the movie Up was released, lots of people, myself included, thought: "Okay, another CGI movie. Old guy and a house?" Then everybody who saw it, myself included, wound up sobbing after only 10 minutes. The timing of the emotional bomb is different, but similar sorts of tears await you with the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance's production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town.
That may come as a surprise, because at the outset it's easy to dismiss Our Town as limited. The characters live in small-town Grover's Corners in New Hampshire at the turn of the last century. They're all middle-class; they're all part of families with married, heterosexual parents; they assume conventional gender roles; and everybody goes to the same Protestant church together. The characters even admit their town is pretty sleepy.
As most of American arts and letters of the last century tells us, that's not a universal perspective. But here's the remarkable thing that happens when you wholly embrace one type of experience, be it the one in Our Town or the perspective of Jews in 1930s Germany or the daily lives of black migrant workers in Chicago: It suddenly becomes universal. Our Town doesn't assume that everyone's lives are like this. Yet everyone can relate to the experiences of these characters: their courtships, marriages, births, and final days. Our Town is about nothing less than the human passage through life.
Our Town is an ensemble piece, and under Marie Brown's direction, the cast carries the show well. As Emily, Sofia Ruiz especially creates a full-bodied character, one who passes through the awkward confusion of her teenage years to become a confident young woman who still possesses much of the same excitement and goodness. It's rare to find a young actor with enough perspective on his or her own experiences to portray those transitional years believably, but both she and Will Brittain as George trace those lines beautifully.
Wilder calls for a production without fancy scenery or props. The classic scene between Emily and George from their bedroom windows takes place on ladders across the stage, for instance. Show up early, and you can view up close items from the show and other period pieces in display cases onstage. The effect is that of a half-empty antiques booth, but history fans especially will appreciate the detail and atmosphere.
One final warning: Consider carefully the person with whom you choose to see Our Town. Try to make it someone you know and love. This is a show that will bring to mind the people in your life dearest to you, and having one of them close by will be a comfort.