Review: 'Our Town' Receives Well Deserved Praise
As a young actor or actress, it's not easy holding your own on stage next to an acting veteran like Frances Conroy, but the cast of Skidmore College's recent production of Our Town seemed to manage just fine on opening night of its 6-day run.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Thornton Wilder tells the story of a small New Hampshire town and the lives, loves, and deaths of its inhabitants in the early 1900s. As director Phil Soltanoff has noted, this famous play is hardly unfamiliar to many theatergoers. He noted, "Our Town is an American play that everyone knows, and most everyone has seen...The play’s ubiquity also creates its problem. Our Town is performed so often it has become a shadow of its once innovative self. An anesthetized version of the play exists in our psyche." In response to this, Soltanoff promised the show's audience an "edgy", "innovative" production of the familiar story. He didn't disappoint.
Throughout the show, three screens played the 1989 Lincoln Center production of Our Town, while the actors on stage synced their lips and body language to the 1989 production's actors. Overall, the cast managed to do this almost impeccably. Not only was the lip-syncing an impressive feat, but it also served as a brilliant means of reiterating the play's major themes about human indifference towards things that we mistakenly dismiss as too familiar.
In particular, the show's young couple, George Gibbs (Jack Mullhern, 16) and Emily Webb (Lucy Consagra, '18), wowed with moments of strikingly honest acting. Consagra carried her character through girlhood, adolescence, and womanhood expertly. Without a doubt, she proved herself to be one of the brightest talents in the theater department. Skidmore is lucky to have her. As George Gibbs, Mullhern was equal parts boyish and serious. Even while syncing with the movement of the actor on the screen behind him. His easy manner made every movement he made seem effortless. Their scenes together were fantastic.
Despite the success of the lip-syncing, other "edgy" choices in act III seemed less purposeful. In a confusing moment at the very end of the show, the actors began addressing each other by their real names instead of their character's names, while at the same time, bemoaning about human ignorance. It seemed almost to suggest that the actors in the show had reached some enlightenment out of the reach of the audience, but this metaphorical leap fell short. Also, because of the way that the final scene was staged with the actors facing forward and not at each other, it was a bit confusing to have them suddenly change names and still follow who was being spoken to. All in all, a minor misstep in what was otherwise a fantastic production.
It's easy enough to roll your eyes at ideas and stories that have become cliché and commonplace with the passage of time, but the cast and crew of Skidmore's production of Our Town remind us all that there is beauty even in the familiar and the commonplace.