Wilder/Wyllie: Review of Dramac’s ‘Our Town’
Over the last ten years Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (1938) has been one of the most frequently staged plays in the United States. For those who know it this will come as no surprise, as it is a truly beautiful piece of theatre. In many ways it is the theatrical equivalent of Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, with the added advantage of being far more accessible.
Set in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, Our Town recounts some of the day-to-day life of its residents between the years 1901-13. On the surface the play deals with the minutiae of the town’s folk’s routines. Children go to school, meals get made, the milk gets delivered; young people fall in love, get married, have children and die. Wilder deliberately set his story in what is the quintessential turn of the twentieth-century American town, and even draws overt attention to its apparent averageness. These scenes, even today, should be familiar: this is the mundane, this is routine, but imbedded therein Wilder is making a point. So often in life these are the moments that we gloss over on auto-pilot; however, Wilder invites us to not only take pause and notice the beauty that exists in these moments, but to recognize their fleeting and ephemeral nature. It is an important message, because it reminds us of how amazing even the most seemingly mundane day can be, and encourages us to appreciate and better love those people who matter most in our lives.
Our Town is a play steeped in theatricality; to this end, director Angus Wyllie has made excellent use of the space offered by the Macquarie University’s Lighthouse Theatre, which suites the aesthetic of the play perfectly. His actors never leave the stage, but rather remain in character, flanking the action along both wings. A large outline of the United States adorns the stage floor, with an X marking out the location of the fictional town. The production is true to Wilder’s vision for the piece: there is minimal set and minimal props, drawing further attention to the fact that so much of what surrounds us during our daily routine goes unnoticed – here literally so.
The play processes a cast of 13 actors playing some 20-plus characters, and as an ensemble the young group work well together. The whole production is held together by Hanni Trewin. As the Stage Manager Trewin acts as the show’s narrator and sets the tone for the whole piece, bringing a measured and authoritative, yet calming presence to the role. Much of the play’s focus rests on George and Emily – played by Todd McHenry and Jess Watton, respectively – and their budding romance. McHenry brings a goofy but endearing quality to his performance, while Watton does a fine job as the more grounded and sensible Emily. The pair has a charming chemistry together, and their delightfully awkward encounter at the local milk bar is one of the show’s highlights. With this pair Wyllie has opted to tease out the gentle humour present in the text, which is sometimes lost in other productions.
This trio is supported by a well-cast ensemble, many of whom play multiple characters. Some notable standouts included Chris Heaslip as Dr Gibbs, who brought a warm maturity beyond his years and provided some moments of genuine grief when called for. Patrick Gallagher and Morgan Foulsham supplied wonderful flashes of comedy with their respective roles as Professor Willard and Howie the Milk Man. Jasmine Delnido and Caitlin Clancy were also nice additions as the down to earth Mrs Gibbs and Webb.
To be sure, this is a student production, but keeping this in mind it is sterling effort from the young group. The only thing lacking was perhaps a stronger climax, which comes when Emily realizes that she and her family had been living blinded to the beauty in their lives. However, given that this performance was viewed on preview it will no doubt only become stronger with every outing from now on.
Our Town is a charming, funny, melancholy yet inspiring play and Dramac does justice to the piece. Our Town is playing at the Macquarie University Lighthouse Theatre until the 25th of October, for more information see: https://www.facebook.com/events/633059860146743/
Unlike all our other reviews this review was solely composed by Nathan Finger.
Additionally, as is noted on our About page, I have an affiliation with the Macquaire University Drama Society. Although I personally know many of the people involved in this production every effort was taken to keep the review objective.