REVIEW: Our Town (Theatre-Hikes)

Strong ensemble brings Grover’s Corners to life

 

rebecca, george & emily 25

   
Theatre-Hikes presents
   
Our Town
  
Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by
Frank Farrell
at
The Pullman Historic Museum and Morton Arboretum
through September 26  |  tickets: $13-$19  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Our Town, written by Thornton Wilder, offers a glimpse into the daily lives of average Americans in small town New Hampshire. Set from 1901 to 1913, this play takes the audience on a journey of growth and discovery. Focused mainly on the characters of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, Our Town depicts life typical of how things were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Pullman Historic Museum provides the backdrop for Theatre-Hikes’ Our Town, creating a feeling of being transported back to the early 1900s. (Note: future performances will occur at the Morton Arboretum). Grover’s Corners, NH, the location of Our Town, is brought to life through this use of this space. Being outdoors however, the cast had to compete with airplanes overhead, car alarms and some rather jubilant church music wafting through the air. The cast succeeds, however, in distracting the  audience from such deterrents with their george & emily A 50 strong, captivating performances. Each scene has very minimal set pieces – only six stools. The rest of the action and props are pantomimed. The cast does a good job acting out different experiences without the use of physical props, allowing for the story to really shine through.

Our Town opens on a typical day in Grover’s Corners with the actions narrated by the stage manager (Dan Scurek). Our Town is a meta-theatrical play that announces it’s a play, breaking through the fourth wall to directly address the audience. Scurek’s stage manager/narrator jumps right into character from his first line. He’s incredibly personable and animated with both his words and his actions, creating a character that one looks forward to hearing from. The narrator introduces the rest of the characters in act one, “the Daily Life,” including Mrs. Gibbs (Mary Nigohosian) and Mrs. Webb (Jeanne Scurek). Nigohosian clearly fleshed out her character with a relatable demeanor. She is entertaining to watch as she neatly gets her family ready for the morning – making breakfast and attending to her husband and children. She proves to be the stronger of the two women, set against J. Scurek. Mrs. Webb is, of course, a proper woman, but Scurek plays her a bit too stiffly. She overacts at times, causing the character to feel forced.

The audience is also introduced to young George Gibbs (BJ Engelhardt) and Emily Webb (Courtney Payne). Interacting through typical conversations of homework and baseball, Engelhardt and Payne offer an innocent and sweetly awkward portrayal of two young people discovering their feelings for one another. The first act also introduces the two standout supporting roles of Professor/Constable (Kevin Lambert) and Simon Stimson (Dan Toot). Although these are smaller roles, the actors take them to heart and really make them come to life. Lambert is amusing and proves to be a strong presence while on stage. Similarly, Toot’s character, the choir organist and town drunk, is quite comical, sometimes stealing the spotlight when he’s on.

Act two, “Love and Marriage,” offers a glimpse further into the relationship between Emily and George. There’s a clear chemistry between the two actors, and as the second act progresses, the characters grow and come truly to life. “Love and Marriage” runs a bit quicker than act one, which slightly drags in the beginning. It’s lovely to see George and Emily’s relationship grow; it’s evident that both Engelhardt and Payne have an understanding of their character’s psyche and the reasoning behind their actions and words. Act two concludes with their marriage and all the townsfolk gathering to wish them well.

george, mr. webb stg mang, george, emily, 3 ladies

Our Town concludes with act three, “Death and Eternity.” The townsfolk have gathered in the cemetery to attend the funeral of one of their own. The tone shifts here from light and happy to stark and contemplative. Payne’s character arch becomes even greater as she attempts to deal with the situation at hand, and real, raw emotions come through, connecting her even further to the audience. Mrs. Gibbs proves to be a comforting presence in this time of sorrow, and Nigohosian’s gentle character is a relief for both the characters and the audience members.

Overall, Our Town is a solid show. The acting is generally on point, and the two-and-a-half hours go by quickly. There is quality direction by Frank Farrell, which allows each actor the confidence to move about without fumbling, and the costuming by Melissa Snyder adds another layer to the show. Each outfit is appropriate to both the characterization and the time frame of Our Town, which helps to shape the story.

(Side note: Act three even allowed for a bit of audience interaction when audience member Dale Gallian was asked to step in a fill a small role of Farmer McCarthy.)

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Our Town plays at the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53 in Lisle, IL. The show runs on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm through September 26. Tickets are $13 to $19 and can be purchased at www.mortonarb.org or by calling (630) 725-2066.

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Thespian mice discovered in Goodman Theatre’s rafters

Goodman Theatre, home of great theatre and thespian Mice.

In a major scientific discovery, Dr. Vince Shlomi from SW Labs has verified that a high-intellect species of mice has been discovered in the rafters of Goodman Theatre in Chicago’s Loop

“It was the weirdest thing,” said Anna Clifford, Goodman stage manager and Starbucks barista.  “We’d come in for rehearsals, and things would be moved around.  The lighting would be adjusted, or the scripts would be chewed on.  I just figured it was someone from the cast of Mary Poppins.” 

These 2 thespian mice from Goodman stand for their bows. The discovery occurred a week into the run of Goodman’s present production, Come Back, Little Shicksa.  On a routine check of the lighting, set designer and taxi driver Radhakant Baijpai, noticed that a Shakespeare book of plays was tucked between the rafter beams.  “I bent down to pick up the book,” said Rhada “and it started to move – so  I grabbed the book, and there underneath was five or 6 of those critters, all moving their arms wildly and emoting!” 

So as to avoid calling in health inspectors, the Goodman box office placed PETA-approved traps amongst the rafters, along with copies of  the American classic  about the downfall of a washed-up Avon lady – Dearth of a Saleswoman – as bait. The theatre-loving mice were soon caught and  trucked off to SW Labs, which is where they discovered that the mice responded more to Shakespeare than to slices of cheese. 

When Goodman artistic-director and Elvis-impersonator Robert Falls was asked for a comment regarding the theatre mice, he just offered a terse “It’s all much ado about nothing”.

Lookingglass Theatre’s “Our Town” – starring David Schwimmer – the rave reviews are in!

schwimmer

Check out the Looking Glass Theatre‘s “Our Town” cast photo gallery at ChicagoTribune.com, starring David SchwimmerOur Town plays at the downtown theatre through April 5th.  Info and tickets here.

UPDATE – REVIEWS

Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times: Apart from its (“trussed up”) set, the Lookingglass “Our Town” — co-directed by Anna D. Shapiro and Jessica Thebus and featuring 13 members of the close-knit ensemble — is a fairly straightforward, gently elegiac interpretation of the play.   (Entire review here). Rating: Recommended

Michael J. Roberts at ChicagoPride.comLookingglass gives us an older but wiser ‘Our Town’.  It is in the third act, however,that Shapiro and Thebus strike gold with the Lookingglass actors and where the casting choice of using older actors to play George and Emily……there is a gravitas that can only come with the experience of life. Moreover, the final moments with Schwimmer collapsing on his wife’s tombstone left nary a dry eye in the house, including mine.  (Entire review here.)

(Catey Sullivan at Examiner.com: ‘Our Town’ a staggering take on a timeless drama (Entire review here)

Chris Jones at his Chicago Tribune theater blog The Theater Loop: Iconic play mirrors Lookingglass’ Journey…Schwimmer the emotional core of ‘Our Town’ in search of a small town. (Entire review here.)  Rating: «««

ourtown-cast.jpg

Cast of “Our Town”.  More pics here.

Tribune photo by E. Jason Wambsgans / February 5, 2009

From YouTube: Meet the cast of “Our Town”. 

In this video: David Schwimmer, Joey Slotnick, David Catlin, David Kersnar, Laura Eason, Thomas J Cox, Andy White, Heidi Stillman, Raymond Fox, Patia Bartlett, Philip R Smith, Tracy Walsh, Louise Lamson and Kevin Douglas

More Lookingglass Theatre YouTube videos here.

 

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Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (TimeOut Chicago)

Court Theatre's "Caroline or Change", six out of six stars The Hypocrite's "Our Town" "Million Dollar Quartet" at the Apollo Theater Steep Theatre's "Breathing Corpses"

 

TimeOut Chicago‘s Christopher Platt and Kris Vire present their top 10 Chicago theater picks of 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Speech and Debate  (American Theatre Company)
by Stephen Karam
Standouts: PJ Paparelli (ATC Artistic Director); performances: Patrick Andrews, Jared McGuire, Sadieh Rifai
 
     
4. Uncle Vanya (TUTA TheatreChicago)
by Anton Chekhov
Standouts: Zeljko Djukic (director), Yasen Peyankov  and Peter Christensen (translators), Martin Andrew (designer)
 
     
5. Miss Julie  (The Hypocrites)
by August Strindberg
Standouts: Sean Graney (director); performances: Stacy Stoltz, Greg Hardigan
 
     
6. Titus Andronicus  (Court Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), ; performances: Timothy Edward Kane, Hollis Resnik
 
     
7. Fake Lake  (The Neo-Futurists)
by Sharon Greene
Standouts: Halena Kays (director), Welles Park pool, Mikhail Fiksel
 
     
8. Breathing Corpses  (Steep Theatre)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Robin Witt (director), Marcus Stephen (set designer)
 
     
9. Million Dollar Quartet  (Goodman, Apollo Theater)
Standouts: Levi Kreis (as Jerry Lee Lewis), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Rob Lyon (Carl Perkins), Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley)
 
     
10. As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)
by Devin de Mayo
Standouts: Devin de Mayo (director)
 

 

To see the TimeOut Chicago description of each of these shows, click here.

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Tribune)

   Bountiful03smE_Faye_Butler - CarolineChangesweetcharitycollage

 

Chicago Tribune’s main theatre critic, Chris Jones, presents his top 10 plays of 2008:

 

1. A Trip to Bountiful  (Goodman Theatre)
by Horton Foote
Standouts: Harris Yulin (director), performance: Lois Smith
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Picnic  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Inge
Standouts: David Cromer (Director)
 
     
4. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
 
     
5. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Standout: Kate Whoriskey (director)
 
     
6. Four Places  (Victory Gardens)
by Joel Drake Johnson
Standouts: Sandy Shinner (director)
 
     
7. Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)
by Cy Coleman
Standouts: Jim Corti (director), Mitzi Hamilton (choreographer)
 
     
8. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
9. The Seafarer  (Steppenwolf Theatre)
by Conor McPherson
Standout: Francis Guinan (says Jones: probably the best male performance of the year)
 
     
10. Journey’s End (Griffin Theatre)
by Jonathan Berry
 

Honorable mentions: (alphabetically): America: All Better! (Second City), Don’t Dress for Dinner (British American Stage Company – at Royal George), Grey Gardens (Northlight Theatre), If All The World Were Paper (Chicago Children’s Theatre), Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night (Theo Ubique). Les Miserables (Marriott Theatre), Million Dollar Quartet (Deegee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights – at the Apollo Theater), A Taste of Honey (Shattered Globe Theatre), Tomorrow Morning (Hilary A. Williams LLC), The Voysey Inheritance (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company).

 

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.

David Cromer’s "Our Town" coming to NYC

Cromer_inOurTown

As reported on Playbill.com and the Chicago Tribune’s blog “The Theater Loop” by Chris Jones, David Cromer’s acclaimed Chicago production of Our Town, by Thorton Wilder, will make a reappearance in Spring 2009 at an Off-Broadway theatre.  This is becoming something of a trend for David Cromer, as his production of The Adding Machine recently finished an award-winning run at Off-Broadway’s Minetta Lane Theatre.

Other info:

  • Auditions are currently under way
  • Ont The Town will be produced by Scott Morfee (who also financially-backed Adding Machine)
  • Begins in February at the Barrow Street Theatre in Greenwich Village.
  • The cast is expected to be a mix of Chicago and New York actors.
  • Cromer directed and played the Stage Manager in the Windy City run, but it is not yet known whether Cromer will reprise the Stage Manager role.
  • In regards to the set, the Barrow Street stage will be stripped bare to echo Cromer’s earlier concept.

As for The Adding Machine, which premiered at Evanston’s Next Theatre (see my review here), Playbill relays:

Cromer’s intensely visual staging of the musical Adding Machine was one of the best-reviewed productions of the 2007-08 season in New York City. The musical by composer and co-librettist Josh Schmidt and co-librettist Jason Loewith played the Minetta Lane Theatre Feb. 8-July 20.

For its New York run Adding Machine was awarded two Outer Critics Circle Awards (Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, Outstanding New Score), four Lucille Lortel Awards (Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Director, Outstanding Lead Actor, Outstanding Lighting Design) and four Obie Awards as well as nominations from the Drama Desk and Drama League awards.

More links of interest: