‘Our Town’ urges us to open our eyes
Story by Laurie Merrill
Photos by Slaven Gujic
GCU News Bureau
“It’s a nice town — know what I mean?” the stage manager character (Brenna Warren) of Ethington Theatre’s production of “Our Town” says with a knowing smile.
In another scene, newspaper editor Charles Webb (Cameron Cluff) uses the phrase “ordinary” to describe Grover’s Corners, N.H., from the years 1899 to 1913.
It is a place like most others. People are born, they live, they fall in love, they marry and they die.
That such a simple story is so universal is the very basis of the shattering tragedy in this 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by playwright Thornton Wilder.
It is also a reason “Our Town” is one of the most produced pieces of theater in the world.
“Wilder is doing much more than painting a ‘wasn’t-life-great-back-then’ portrait during turn-of-the-century America,” director and College of Fine Arts and Production instructor Michael Kary says in the playbill.
“He’s using that portrait to show us something about ourselves that many of us won’t get a glimpse of before it’s too late.”
The terrible truth is voiced by character Emily Webb Gibbs (Sarah Scalick), who has died during childbirth and joined the World of the Dead.
The dead are depicted by characters who sit motionless in the same position and stare in the same direction. They are bathed in blue light and clad in flowing garments. Over their objections, Emily decides to relive the day she turned 12.
Emily’s 12th birthday is an exciting yet typical day in the Gibbs’ household, with her mother doing chores in the kitchen and giving orders to her children and husband. Emily is ecstatic to see her loved ones — but horrified that nobody appreciates how special it is to be alive.
“Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. … Just for a moment now, we’re all together — Mama, just for a moment let’s be happy — let’s look at one another!” Emily cries in desperation.
But her mother and the others are simply going about their morning business, unaware that anything special is going on.
“All that was going on and we never noticed?” Emily says, sobbing. “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every minute?”
“No — saints and poets, maybe — they do some,” the stage manager says.
“That’s all human beings are — just blind people,” Emily says.
No scenery or props
Without scenery and props, the action is told with costumes, hair and makeup, scenic design, lighting — and excellent pantomiming. The characters are always in motion, creating scenery with their actions.
There are no dandelions. Yet when Emily is alive, she’s clearly seen picking dandelions and blowing on them. There’s no bat or ball, yet George Gibbs (Hayden Domenico) is obviously throwing a ball into the air and catching it. The mothers are both completely convincing in their kitchens, making breakfast, putting dishes away, stringing beans and more.
The play has scenes that make the audience feel as if they, too, were invited to vividly portrayed events.
The stage manager who talks directly to the audience in a narrative role “creates” hills, churches, streets and many other details by using her arms, eyes and movements. At one point she’s running backward to point out a feature in the town. In the next scene she’s sitting on the edge of the stage confiding to the audience about the characters.
This production has an added twist: Students hold key leadership positions, a criterion for entering the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in February. GCU’s 2015 production of “Scapin” was selected as an entrant last season.
Our Town’s student designer team includes Laynie Nelson (set design and costume), Armani Randolph (lighting) and Madison Kesterson (hair and makeup). Other student production positions include stage manager Jennifer Estrada and assistant stage managers Jennifer Lang and Becca Mae Owen.
“Open your own eyes tonight,” Kary says. “See the scenery and props that aren’t there.”
Principal cast members include:
Stage manager/narrator: Brenna Warren
George Gibbs: Hayden Domenico
Emily Webb Gibbs: Sarah Schalick
Dr. Frank Gibbs: Joshua Lucas
Mrs. Julia Gibbs: Devaune Bohall
Rebecca Gibbs: Bri Nguyen
Mr. Charles Webb: Cameron Cluff
Mrs. Myrtle Webb: James Coblentz
This week: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20. (The Nov. 18 performance is sold out)
Next week: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Nov. 25-26, 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27
Tickets are available here. Students get tickets free with ID.
To see a slideshow of the production, click here.
For another story about GCU’s play, click here.
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or [email protected]