ELLSWORTH — “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder’s poignant play about life in a small New England town at the turn of the last century, is, of course, perfect for a community theater in a small New England town to put on.
That being said, care must be taken not to take the material for granted in a “we got this” sort of way.
The cast, crew and director of The Grand’s production of “Our Town,” which opened last weekend, are, to use another current phrase, “all in” on this one; every man, woman and child deeply committed to their role in telling this lovely, bittersweet story about life, love and death in a time that was simpler, but in many ways, not so very different than our own.
Shouldering a large part of the responsibility for telling this tale is Jim Pendergist as The Stage Manager, who breaks through the fourth wall of the stage to directly address the audience, helping us conjure the town of Grover’s Corners, N.H., on a near empty stage and introducing its citizens — the Webb and Gibbs families, Warren, the neighborhood constable, Howie the milkman, the paper boys, Joe and Si Crowell, and so forth.
Pendergist struggled with his lines from time to time at Saturday night’s performance, which slowed the pace of his narrative, but he covered it well and brought all the proper folksy gravitas needed for this role.
Every member of the Gibbs and Webb families (the latter made up almost entirely of the Torrances of Ellsworth) does a fine job of realizing their characters.
Tracy Green brings an honest warmth and motherly affection to her role as Julia Gibbs. As her husband, the town doctor, Randall Simons is just the sort of person you’d want giving medical advice and, later, life advice to his nervous son George (a wonderfully cast Brady Kelly) on his wedding day.
We first meet George as a gawky, goofy adolescent clearly smitten by his pretty next door neighbor Emily Webb (an excellent Aliza Dwyer). In the course of the three-act play we watch these kids mature into thoughtful, responsible adults and their childhood crush evolve into love.
The rest of the Webb family is made up of those Torrances — Jennifer and Josh as Emily’s mom and dad Myrtle and Charles, and Noah as her younger brother Wally. A fourth family member, Sophie Torrance, has skipped next door to play George Gibbs’ strong-willed little sister Rebecca.
The entire Torrance family does a fine job with their roles, but Jennifer is a standout as Myrtle Webb, a stern and efficient homemaker who has trouble expressing the love she feels for her children, but secretly weeps on the eve of Emily’s wedding.
There are no hand props in this play, so the actors must pantomime such things as reading the paper, snapping beans, drinking their coffee or ice cream sodas, delivering the milk and such. They all do a great job helping us imagine what they are up to, but Jennifer Torrance is especially notable for preparing an entire dinner, stage left, while the spotlight is on the family next door. Terrific acting here and kudos to director Nick Turner as well for this and many other nicely crafted moments throughout the play.
Kudos also to sound board operator Seneca Maddocks-Wilbur for letting us hear what we couldn’t see — milk bottles rattling, a horse’s whinny a newspaper unfolding — at precisely the right moment.
And speaking of precisely right, Rebecca Wright’s costuming in this play is so good it almost steals every scene. George’s clunky black shoes and suspenders, the women’s shirtwaist dresses and aprons, the Stage Manager’s waistcoat and wingtip shoes; Emily’s diaphanous wedding dress and, oh, her mother’s gorgeous blue taffeta mother-of-the-bride gown with its leg o’ mutton sleeves; the boys’ knickers, the milkman’s jacket and…well, one outfit after the other, absolutely perfect for the era and for making us forget the absence of any scenery.
A couple of other nice moments must be mentioned before closing. Emory Robotham as the bloviating Professor Willard is a hoot and a half, pontificating on every aspect of life in Grover’s Corners, bringing to mind both physically and in performance another great bloviator, actor John Lithgow.
And there’s a lovely musical interlude, in the scene that introduces us to the depressed and drunken choirmaster — a nicely understated performance by Paul Markosian.
The pacing throughout needs to pick up to keep the audience from getting fidgety, but all in all “Our Town” is a fine place to visit.
“Our Town” will have four more performances at The Grand, next weekend, Oct. 27-29 with 7 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. To reserve seats, call 667-9500 or visit www.grandonline.org.