Cygnet Theatre takes on Thornton Wilder’s iconic ‘Our Town’
By Diana Saenger
American playwright Thornton Wilder wrote some of our most beloved and thought-provoking plays in his lifetime. He adapted novels, wrote for operas and penned the screenplay, “Our Town,” which earned Wilder one of his three Pulitzer Prizes. “Our Town” (which premiered in 1938) was poorly received at first, due to its uniqueness. Eventfully, audiences understood its brilliance, and it has become one of the longest-running plays in history.
“Our Town” opens at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town on Thursday, June 9 helmed by Cygnet’s artistic director Sean Murray.
Narrated by the Stage Manager (Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson), “Our Town” unfolds through her explanations and centers on two characters, George Gibbs (Francis Gercke, “Love Song,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) and Emily Webb (Jo Anne Glover, “The Norman Conquests,” “The Receptionist”) who live in Grover’s Corners, New Hamphire. They meet as teens, eventually marry, and face questions and situations – including tragedy. A constant theme is the human tendency to miss the simple joys of their lives.
What’s unique about the play is its stage presentation … or lack thereof; the set is nearly devoid of props and costumes.
“Sean decided to go with color-blind and age-blind casting, rather than specific types, to capture the essence of the characters to observe the spirit of the play,” explained Gercke, also a Cygnet Resident Artist. “It’s not the exact representation Thornton Wilder originally called for, but Sean wants to capture the San Diego and America “now” experience. He wants to achieve how Thornton Wilder wrote the piece … that this is not for people to get lost in the theatrics, but to look on it as a representation of their own lives.
“Who we are, and the authenticity we lend to the production through our own identity, make it work. This should be simple and easy, but a lot of actors like to hide behind the character and the wardrobe and the fancy set and sound design, so (the bare set) poses challenges. But it also has liberties in that you (the actor) and the audience are not encumbered by what a designer has determined the ‘look’ of the play will be. That enables us to dream a lot and it’s freeing for the audience.”
Gercke is a former artistic director of New Village Arts and teaches acting at USD, Palomar College, and in private classes. His son, Jonah, plays Wally in “Our Town.” Although father and son share little stage time together, Gercke is intent on letting Jonah decide if acting will be his career. “It’s lovely to watch him perform, hang out in rehearsal, talk shop, and talk about things he’s interested in at age 12,” he said.
If you go
What: “Our Town”
When: Matinees and evenings, June 9–July 20
Where: Cygnet Theatre Company, Old Town Stage, 4040 Twiggs St.
Contact: (619) 337-1525,
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