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'Our Town' Stirs Audience Emotions at Shakespeare Theatre

Liz Keill

Monday, October 21, 2013 • 12:21pm

MADISON – No matter how long Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” has been around, it never ceases to pull our heart strings and take us back to a time when life had a certain simplicity, a predictability that most of us never really knew.

Director Joe Discher has woven that spell anew. This beautifully crafted play, with the simplest of sets and pantomimed props, continues to pulse with human emotions, intergenerational conflicts and all the ups and downs of everyday life.

It’s Grovers Corners, New Hampshire, circa 1903. But it could be Anywhere, USA. At the center of it all is the Stage Manager, who is the glue that holds the story all together. Philip Goodwin perfectly captures the New England accent, the ‘downhome’ observations and humor that make it all so real. Goodwin has appeared at Shakespeare Theatre before, but never incisively as he has here, neatly balancing the balance between  observer and involvement with the residents of this little New England  town.

And let’s not forget that “Our Town” first premiered right here in New Jersey, at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton in 1937, before going on to Broadway. In addition, Wilder taught French at Lawrenceville School in the 1920s.

Nisi Sturgis as the young love interest, Emily, delivers a fine, sensitive performance. Well, let’s face it. She has some of the best lines, especially in Act III with her goodbye to earth (to mama’s sunflowers, new ironed dresses, sleeping and waking up) and realization that life and death are too different worlds. Sturgis has delivered fascinating performances in “I Capture the Castle,” “To Kill a Mockingbird”  and “Trelawney of the Wells” among  other productions at this theatre.

George Coughtry as George Gibbs, Emily’s boyfriend, has just the right boyish, awkward charm to make him ideal in their courting scenes and his premarital breakfast with Mr. Webb. James Michael Reilly is superb in his delivery of a somewhat distant, but observant father. He’s also the editor of the local newspaper. His wife is played with a no- nonsense delivery by Allison Daugherty. George’s parents are Dr. Gibbs, played by Malachy Cleary and his wife, performed by Marion Adler. You can see their long-time, loving relationship, even when her dreams of going to Paris, France are thwarted.  There’s a sense of quiet understanding as well.

But everyone in this cast delivers in spades. Mark H. Dold as the town drunk and choir director, Simon Stimson, Glenn Beatty as Professor Willard and Eileen Glenn as Mrs. Soames all inject their individual touches.

Costumes by Candida Nichols, lighting by Matthew Adelson, scenic design by Charlie Calvert add to this timeless classic. Some of the New England accents were more pronounced than others, but in the long run, that didn’t matter. It’s the heart of this play that counts, the kaleidoscope of life, death and love.

“Our Town” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison, through Nov. 17. For tickets, call (973) 408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.

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