Thursday, June 01, 1995

Our Town, by A Community Theatre

Sean McQuaid’s review of Our Town from the Buzz

June 1995—The May 11-14 presentation of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at the Carrefour Theatre was a major first. The play itself has been produced countless times before, but this performance marks the first production by a major new Island theatre group: ACT (a community theatre).

ACT is essentially a community theatre group who hope to promote and produce theatre in Prince Edward Island through performances, mentoring and workshops.  Members range from amateur enthusiasts and drama students to seasoned professionals, and Our Town brought together many of them for the new company’s stage debut.

A word or two about the play itself: all Islanders, especially those bored by or contemptuous of our sleepy little province, should be dragged kicking and screaming to a performance of Our Town at some point in their lives. Wilder’s story, the biography of a small New England town, is a poignantly telling portrait of small-town and rural life that ultimately reveals the painfully beautiful simplicity of the lives that the townspeople themselves take for granted. It’s a moving commentary on the wonder of life in general, even in what we perceive as the mundane, and is especially fitting fare for Prince Edward Island.

Content aside, what about the performance itself? Well, to paraphrase Sally Field, I liked it. I really liked it. It’s the best piece of theatre I’ve seen in town this year. The minimalist approach to props and staging worked surprisingly well. The cast’s pantomime efforts were so universally consistent that the desired illusion of reality was conveyed, while the “invisible” elements of the staging contributed to the appropriately dream-like quality of the flashbacks that make up the play. The minimal set and theatrical lighting also enhanced the metadramatic quality of the piece - that is, the presentation of the play’s events by an on-Stage narrator who is stage-managing the play for our benefit.

CBC news personality Doug Huskilson is ideal as the Stage Manager. His folksy, matter-of-fact tone exudes both narrative credibility and languid small-town charm, with enough dry wit to keep the audience chuckling. He also has more than a few good moments in his interaction with the other characters: his pantomime antics as a soda jerk yielded brilliantly understated hilarity; in fact, understatement and subtlety are the primary keys to this production’s success.

As for the rest of the cast, there are no truly bad eggs in this theatrical omelet. Gerry Gray is a solid Doc Gibbs, while under-used gem Rob Thomson infuses the role of Mister Webb with good-natured warmth. Karen Swanson and the dependable Barbara Rhodhenizer are well cast as the mothers of the Gibbs and Webb households. Greg Stapleton does well as young George Gibbs, and Jennifer Anderson is very engaging as his future wife, Emily Webb.

Anderson has an infectious, near-irrepressible energy that, properly channeled, makes her character magnetic. Her emotional timing is sometimes slightly off, and some of her distraught moments seem to require a bit too much visible effort, but her telling emotional progressions and sheer feeling yield some of the play’s most affecting moments. This high quality extends to most of the supporting cast. Affable Ed Rashed seems poured into the role of amiable milkman Howie Newsome, the under-utilized Ben Kinder turns up as an undertaker, and Blaine Hrabi has an amusingly screwball cameo as a nutty professor. It’s an excellent, well-directed ensemble cast (kudos to David Sherren): the timing and credibility of their interaction are (with a few exceptions) seamless.

Our Town was a tight, smoothly professional show, and with any luck, it is only the first of many ACT productions in Our Town.

- Sean McQuaid

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