REVIEW: Cygnet’s ‘Our Town’ reminds audiences that life is short … and precious
By Diana Saenger
Often in plays that rely on narration to explain or detail the story, something gets lost. In Cygnet Theatre’s production of Thorton Wilder’s American classic, “Our Town,” the Stage Manager (Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson) alerts the audience right off that Wilder intended for this play to be bare bones and without props or a stage setting.
She does this with some humor as she points in different directions explaining where everything is in 1901 Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, and then states that the two tables and chairs in view are there just for those who think there has to be some scenery.
Thompson eloquently details the who, what, when and why of this town, and when she explains how the sun rising over the mountain is a joy that the 642 inhabitants relish, it’s easy to imagine it in your mind.
Under the guidance of Cygnet’s artistic director, Sean Murray, the production doesn’t miss a beat in fulfilling the playwright’s intention of making this an Everyman reflection of life.
Most of the play revolves around the families Gibbs and Webb, who are neighbors. Using those tables as props, we see Mrs. Gibbs (Robin Christ) and Mrs. Webb (Yolanda Franklin) as they pantomime making meals for their families. The Gibbs’ son George (Francis Gercke) is infatuated with the Webb’s daughter Emily (Jo Anne Glover).
As we watch the romance between George and Emily bloom in Act One and the marriage take place in Act Two, we realize much about the town’s inhabitants through our imaginations as storyteller Thompson brings each person “to life.”
Although we never see Dr. Gibbs treating a patient, we believe he did.
Mr. Webb (Keith Jefferson) is the editor/publisher of the Grover’s Corners Sentinel, and although he never physically sets tiles, we know he printed that paper for years.
We believe Mrs. Soames (Sherri Allen) is a gossip; Professor Willard (Jim Chovick) knows the town history; Simon Stimson (Tom Stephenson) has problems; and Howie Newsome (Eddie Yaroch) loves his job as the milkman.
Murray has elicited strong performances from his cast members — whether their part is short or long. When George first appears on stage as a baseball-loving geek, Gercke portrays him perfectly. He’s just as anxious on his wedding day when sitting at the Webb kitchen table talking to Mr. Webb and unable to control his twitching fingers. Glover nails Emily from her timid attraction to George through her last-minute jittery fears at getting married.
Wilder’s Final Act, with the deceased sitting in chairs in a graveyard, is the most poignant. We are told that everybody in their bones knows that something is eternal, and that the dead spend their time waiting for this eternal part of themselves to emerge.
George loses Emily in childbirth and as the townsfolk grieve over her casket, Emily elects to go back and relive one more day of her life. This is Wilder’s attempt to show the audience that life is about more than its highs and lows, and that each day should be thoroughly embraced.
No one will leave this excellent production without reflecting on those sentiments.
If you go
When: Matinees/evenings through July 20
Where: Cygnet Theatre Company,
San Diego’s Old Town Stage, 4040 Twiggs St.
Tickets: $24-$49, discounts to seniors, students, military.
Box Office: (619) 337-1525
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