Saturday, October 22, 2011
Simple, uncluttered "Our Town" at CRT
STORRS — What a great way to kick off the 50th anniversary of the University of Connecticut’s School of Fine Arts than with the New England classic, Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” at the Nafe Katter Theatre.
This allegorical play, set in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover’s Corners, explores the seemingly simple but ultimately meaningful lives of the town’s inhabitants around the turn of the 20th century, starting on May 7, 1901, just before dawn.
As with most of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s productions, the actors are a combination of graduate and undergraduate students along with professional actors.
David Patrick Kelly stars as the Stage Manager who narrates the entire show and occasionally plays a couple of characters.
Kelly might be known to some from the films “48 Hours” and “Warriors.” As the Stage Manager, he has the commanding presence of a director, confidently leading the audience through the fast-paced play that zips by in about 2½ hours, even with two 10-minute intermissions.
As a play within a play, the Stage Manager uses the actors to play out their lives in Grover’s Corners from 1901 to 1913.
Robert Ross Parker directed “Our Town,” and made the wise decision to keep the play clean and simple by using pantomime to indicate props, as Wilder envisioned.
It feels a little awkward initially, but works quite well over all, and keeps this play on the move.
Other fine professional actors include UConn alumnus Mary Cadorette as Mrs. Julia Gibbs and David Sitler as her husband, Dr. Frank Gibbs.
Ken O’Brien is perfectly nerdy as Professor Willard who explains the geological history of Grover’s Corners to the audience.
When Dr. Frank Gibbs lectures his son on shirking his duty, it is a gentle lesson in good parenting, with kind but respectful discipline.
Brad Bellamy practically steals the show as the beleaguered, grumpy, and delightfully amusing local newspaper editor who ekes humor and humanity out of each pause and glance.
He is especially funny when he reluctantly gives his future son-in-law, George Gibbs (Michael John Improta), a lecture on married life.
Kelsea Baker plays Emily Webb, the bright but plain girl whose mother, played by Carolyn Popp, tells her when pressed, “You are pretty enough for all normal purposes,” but can’t bring herself to tell her about the facts of life.
The set, by Kailey B. Hays-Lenihan, is simple and uncluttered, just like this play, with a few chairs, a couple of tables and a plain brick backdrop that serve as the homes and graveyard of the town.
The costumes, by Maureen Fitzgerald, are finely detailed yet simple, too, and appropriate to the era — which is especially useful to establish the time period of this play.
Ultimately, the Pulitzer prize-winning 1938 play is a useful and elegiac reminder of the importance of appreciating each and every moment of our precariously short and precious lives.