In an era of alternative facts, the truth is often debatable. But in AthensWest’s season opening production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” there are parts of the truth that are not up for debate. You live, you die, and if you are lucky, you find someone to share life with. That shared life passes in a series of mostly ordinary moments in which we fail to appreciate the beauty of those moments.
This simple, direct message feels like a hug from an old friend in this elegant and light evening of theater.
I admit, I wasn’t too excited about “Our Town” at first. It’s one of those classics that too many bad term papers have been written about. But director Larry Snipes has brought the tale to life in such a fresh, satisfying way, it feels new again. Even revelatory.
The play centers on the ordinary folks in the town of Grover’s Corners, N.H., from 1901 to ’13, and their ordinary lives. Divided into three acts with two 10-minute intermissions, the show first conveys the ordinary life of the citizens, then addresses love and marriage, before it reflects on death.
This ordinary tale of ordinary people is narrated by a character called the Stage Manager, played with wizened charm by Geoffrey Nelson. He often directly addresses the audience, occasionally telling them exactly what they should be getting out of each act.
In addition to the convention of direct address, “Our Town” also lends itself to minimalism, with very few props used to tell the story. Bo List pulls double duty as scenic designer in addition to being AthensWest’s artistic director. His in-the-round configuration and a simple flat floor on the stage creates plenty of openness for the imagination. A smattering of plain wooden chairs forms the set pieces, and the ceiling is hung with chairs and soft lighting. This simple but expansive setting gives the actors (and audience) room to imagine the town and its inhabitants as they make breakfast, go to school, smell flowers in the moonlight — all those ordinary things that make up a life.
A strong ensemble brings the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners to life and particularly excels at creating authentic moments while maintaining a light, lilting pace that never feels too fast or too slow.
Taylor Schultz’s performance of Emily is heartfelt, innocent, and beautifully rendered with a light touch, and her character’s love interest, George, is played with charm by Curtis Lipsey III. Supporting characters, like Shayne Brakefield’s troubled Simon Stimson and Joe Gatton’s affable Dr. Gibbs, color the town of Grover’s Corners with complexly drawn characters.
A lithe and lovely night at the theater, “Our Town” will leave you thinking about the ordinary moments in your own life and how precious they are.
What: AthensWest Theatre Co. production of Thornton Wilder’s classic play.
When: Through Oct. 22; show times 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
Where: Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.
Tickets: $27.50 adults; $22.50 students, seniors and active military