Friday, April 24, 2009

Our Town

I should probably start out this review by pointing out that I am no fan of the script for Our Town. I just had this conversation last night with a friend of mine who went to Our Town. Neither of us really understand how the play got its "classic" status. A couple of years ago, I reread the play -- which I think I'd picked up a free copy of when an English professor of mine was retiring and cleaning off his shelves -- and when I was through, I donated it to the library. Anyone who's seen my bookshelves and knows what a bibliophile I am knows I don't like to part with books I enjoyed reading. The script's third act is actually quite good, but in terms of payoff, it's way too little, way too late. You have to wade through a lot of latitude and longitude readings and geological samples and descriptions of gardens and family discussions about allowances and tedious gossip about the choir director to get there. Grover's Corners is, as the characters themselves say, a rather dull place. And the entire play is about Grover's Corners. That makes the script rather dull.

That said, BLT's production of it has some very nice moments, particularly at the end of the second act and the start of the third. Geneva Stevahn did a terrific job as Emily Webb. She had a lovely nervous energy around her crush, George Gibbs (Josh Cormier), in the first act, and was excellent in the second act as a panicked bride suddenly struck with the magnitude of what she's getting into. Amber Ellis (Mrs. Webb) and Stevahn had some great exchanges and did a wonderful job establishing their mother-daughter repoire. Cormier was a little weak in many of his scenes earlier in the play, but did a fine job in the funeral scene.

Andy Neil was quite good as Dr. Gibbs, especially in the funeral scene. Debra Southworth had a bright enthusiasm and charm as Mrs. Gibbs that made her scenes delightful to watch. Cary White was excellent as the drunk and jaded choir director Simon Stimson. Bruce Bellamy developed a very funny character as a doddering old professor attempting to give a history of Grover's Corners via its geology. The children in the play -- Chandler Prohl, Hayden Fowers, Leah March -- executed their parts with aplomb. (Hey kids! If you happen to come across this review, "aplomb" is a good thing.)

However, I was a little disappointed in the Stage Manager, Jeff Chapman. He had a very sing-songy cadence to the delivery of his lines -- a rhythm he fell into that he never deviated from. The cadence made it difficult to really pay attention to what he was actually saying. Also, the rhythm he used involved a tendency for his voice to trail off at the end of each sentence, making it difficult to hear the final words. Audibility was not a huge problem for me; I could usually still make out the words, and even if I couldn't I could get it from the context -- but it's something to think about for people in the audience with hearing aids (of which there always seem to be a few). I heard feedback from at least one person in the audience changing their hearing aid levels during the middle of the show, so I know volume was a problem for some people. Mostly, for me, it was just another annoying part of the cadence -- distracting from what he was saying -- and as the Stage Manager, the narrator, he had the biggest line load and the responsibility of explaining everything in the show. It was vital to be able to both hear and pay attention to him. I saw Chapman in Plaza Suite and he was absolutely fantastic, so it's a shame he wasn't as strong in this show.

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