For playwright Thornton Wilder, the ordinary is extraordinary. It is, however, a simple truth we fail to see in the course of our daily lives.
Directed by Kevin McKendrick, Western Canada High School Drama delivers a charming, well-executed production of Wilder’s Our Town.
Set in the small fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, Our Town stages the life and history of its residents between the years 1901 and 1913. The Stage Manager (Act I – Bonnie Wearmouth, Act II – Montsy Videla, Act III – Haley Petrowhich) acts as our guide to the town by providing narration as well as inviting various townspeople to speak to different aspects of the town. At the heart of the play is the budding romance between George Gibbs (Leif Wester) and Emily Webb (Emily Shackleton) which develops over the play’s three acts: Daily Life, Love and Marriage, and Death and Dying.
Our Town is notable for two things: its minimal set and the use of mime in place of physical props. It is no easy task to create a town out of imaginary space, nor to peel beans, milk a cow, or even drink a cup of coffee at the breakfast table. The actor’s job is to deliver consistent, believable movement which takes into account the weight and dimensions of an object and/or activity; it is an exercise in the critical observation of simple, taken for granted actions.
Overall, the actors have a solid grasp of their space and, thus, draw us into the living history of Grover’s Corners. There are some moments where the consistency dips (e.g. varying heights, hands passing through objects) but it is not enough to pull us out of the action. The actors are confident in the parameters of the environment they have created. Such confidence makes real and immediate the drama that unfolds.
An overall company note is the rushed delivery of lines. Sometimes, there is an observable lack of reflection given to the dialogue (e.g. Why am I saying this? What do I want?). By rushing through their lines, actors dull the main ideas and motivations that provoke them being spoken in the first place.
This also results in actors stumbling on the beginning of their lines. Although they recover, the actors could avoid this altogether if they took more time on their delivery.
Despite this, the ensemble gives charming performances. Wearmouth, Videla, and Petrowhich each bring their own interesting energy as The Stage Manager. Wester and Shackleton are endearing as the play’s young couple. Joshua Zisman displays good comedic timing as Mr. Webb. Julia Hermanson maintains a firm presence on-stage as Mrs. Webb.
The production also features Sara Cho on cello and the piano. Cho plays very well, lending a nostalgic character to the space.
Cho and Nareesa Karmali – the production’s Foley Artists – are spot on with providing the sounds of train whistles, cow bells, and other environmental sounds.
An odd production choice is closing the play with music over the speakers, rather than have Cho play. It is a choice that abruptly breaks the mood given that up until this point, it has all been live musical accompaniment. Having Cho play would have been a nice send off.
On a whole, WCHS Drama rises to the challenge of Wilder’s deceivingly simple play.
Western Canada High School Drama’s production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town ran at the WCHS Theatre from Nov 25 – Nov 27.