Barbara Clark | The Barnstable Patriot
There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.
“Our Town,” Act III
DENNIS — The play “Our Town” won playwright Thornton Wilder a Pulitzer Prize more than 80 years ago, and the timeframe of its dramatic setting is even older – it opens in 1901 and spans about 15 years. The well-known drama is the 2022 season opener at Eventide Theatre Company, performing on the Gertrude Lawrence Stage in Dennis Village through March 23. Its simplicity and genius still deliver the level of power and resonance that first brought it awards and accolades.
The play is constructed in three separate acts: “Daily Life,” “Love and Marriage” and “Death and Eternity,” and each act is presented simply, with minimal props and the ongoing narration of a central character called the Stage Manager. As the Manager sets each scene, we see its depiction of life in the small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, but it’s also a view of our own lives, as they unfold for us all in one way or another.
In “Our Town,” says Toby Wilson, the show’s director, “The audience is (frequently) reminded that they are, in fact, watching a play. Characters address the audience directly; the fourth wall (separating audience from actors) is constantly broken.”
The role of Stage Manager is superlatively acted by Stephen Rourke, who was last seen on the Eventide stage in the role of Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Rourke’s role is pivotal to the drama and perfectly embodies the characteristics and garrulous charm of a master storyteller. With his natty bowtie, brown suit and pocket watch, he wanders the set, directing the action and delivering many of the show’s iconic lines.
Rourke’s Manager gets to the heart of the seemingly easygoing but pierced-to-the-heart characters and scenes that define life in Grover’s Corners. Early in Act I, he sets the stage for the play’s central theme, as he looks up at the sky and remarks, “The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go, doesn’t it?” He knows what’s going to happen in the future, and he shares some of this with us, so from the outset we’re already aware that the “wonderful bright” patina is going to fade. Still, we settle in to follow the deceptively simple scenes and characters, as the Gibbs and Webb families act out the small dramas of their lives.
At Grover’s Corners there are choir rehearsals; bowls of string beans; the milkman and paper boy; blue gingham dresses and ice cream sodas, even a town drunk. The players often appear to be content with their lives, but we see that young and old are occasionally ravished by the moonlight, and there’s ample time spent staring out of windows, possibly at some unseen spot beyond Grover’s Corners.
In Act II, there’s a growing up and some declarations of love, and a wedding. There’s some pre-wedding hesitation, but the wheel of life turns, and it’s on to married life. “People are meant to go through life two by two. ‘Tain’t natural to be lonesome,” the Stage Manager tells us.
Ironically, “Our Town” really comes alive in the third act, its “Death and Eternity” section. One of the characters we’ve been following, who meets a too-early death, is granted the wish to return to the world of the living for a day and realizes the painful truth: that people don’t see the beauty of life while they’re living it, prompting a tearful question: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?”
The story weaves together best in retrospect, as we view it backwards. All those early-on and deceptively mundane lines achieve a collective brilliance once you view them from the endgame of death.
The realization that people don’t “see it” while they’re living it shifts the burden over to us, the audience. We know this story, but we, too, have been lulled into thinking that all the mundane stuff of our lives is just that….mundane….when really it’s the heart of everything.
“Our Town” is a fine evening’s entertainment, delivered by a uniformly fine cast. Thornton Wilder’s story is timeless, and in this thoughtfully revived production, we again succumb to its magic.
“Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder, performs on the Gertrude Lawrence Stage at Dennis Union Church, 713 Main St., Dennis, through March 13, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $31. Box office: (508) 233-2148; or at the door. More information at www.eventidearts.org.
To protect the safety of all, attendees must show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, and masks are required at all times inside the building.