The stark simplicity of the set and stage props in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town belies the depth and breadth of life on the eastern seaboard in the early 1900’s. The setting is Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire and we are introduced to it by the Stage Manager who takes the audience on a social tour of individual, family and community life over a ten year span. It’s a relatively quiet period of history, after the Civil War (1861-1865) and before the outbreaks of World War 1 (1914) and the Spanish Influenza (1918).
The play reveals a truth about life both then and now: Days, weeks and years go by so quickly that we seldom see, hear and appreciate the complexity, richness and beauty before our eyes and ears. The point is underscored by Wilder’s commitment to the staging of this play through miming of domestic chores and the use of a minimalist set and stage props.
There is much to celebrate in this production. The actors portray their characters with consummate skill from the precocious Emily, to the cynical and worldly Mr. Webb. The props are multi-functional and elegant in their simplicity, and the lighting effectively portrays changes in time of day and season. My only reservation was with some costumes for every day wear. The fabrics would not have lent themselves to scrubbing on a washboard, which would have been the mode of cleaning at that time. Having said that, I also doubt that the folk of Grover’s Corners would have had Scandinavian styled household furnishings. So consider my comments to be only a minor irritant from someone who examines costumes perhaps a tad too closely!
Our Town is definitely worth your while. It runs until October 14, 2016 at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Bonnie Lendum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of one family’s journey through palliative care.