WESTON, Vt. – The Weston Playhouse Main Stage opened its 2018 season with Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic “Our Town.” Written in Peterborough, N.H. in 1937, “Our Town” is the story of the fictional small New England town of Grover’s Corners in late 1800s, seen through the everyday lives of its citizens with the help of an all-knowing Stage Manager, played by stage and screen actor Christopher Lloyd.
The play is divided into three acts that largely follow two neighboring households, the Gibbs and the Webbs, as their children grow up, as George Gibbs and Emily Webb fall in love and marry, and after Emily Webb dies in childbirth. Our Stage Manager keeps us well informed and in on small bits of gossip and intrigue that keeps our town humming throughout the entire story. Each act focuses on each stage of life with the final act centered largely around the folks we’ve met and admired in town who are now sitting in their place at the cemetery as young wife and mother Emily Webb joins them.
The story is stark and reduces living to life’s simplest components, which is brought even more into focus with a lack of both sets and costumes, with nothing but a black stage, two ladders, chairs, and tables and in this version, without period costumes, save a few aprons, hats, and shawls. The audience is invited into Grover’s Corners as part of the town with house lights remaining up, though dim, in the first two acts, slowly darkening over the course of the play, and finally we are left in darkness by Act 3.
It is in the final act that you realize why you’ve come to see this play. And why it endures.
In the cemetery as Act 3 opens, we realize we’ve lost several of our favorite citizens in the nine years since we left the town at the end of Act 2. They are sitting there with eyes straight ahead and no expression. The first thing that comes to mind is “Oh no, they’re gone.” There’s Mrs. Gibbs, matriarch of the Gibbs household and George’s mother. Played by Brandy Zarle, her energetic and maternal portrayal now is in utter contrast to what she delivers in Act 3. And we recognize Mrs. Soames, played by Barbara Lloyd who so enthusiastically rejoiced at the Gibbs/Webb wedding in Act 2, but is rejoicing no longer. And tucked in the back, Emily’s brother, Wally, a young boy, dead from a burst appendix during a Boy Scout trip.
As Emily Gibbs, played beautifully with tremendous range and emotion by Julie Benko, grapples with no longer living, she is able to choose one day to go back in her life but is warned by the others to pick just an ordinary day. She chooses a time when she was still in her family home as a young girl. In going back, amongst the hustle and bustle of the living, Emily is bereft that there are no moments of true connection nor realization of each precious moment in the world of the living. It is too painful for her to endure, and she retreats to her seat on the hill.
Our characters’ and our final realization is that the divide between the living and the dead is too wide. We cannot understand them and they cannot understand us; and in death it’s too late to appreciate all we’ve lost. The message is powerful and elicits strong emotional response from the audience.
Christopher Lloyd is flawlessly, wonderful, and powerful as the Stage Manager and is our enduring guide; helpful, cheerful, emotional, and serious as he leads us through this classic.
“Our Town” is directed Weston Playhouse veteran Steve Stettler and runs June 21 to July 7 at Weston Playhouse, 12 Park Street in Weston. Show times are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at 802-824-5288 or by visiting www.westonplayhouse.org.