Multicultural Our Town celebrates life and love

Thornton Wilder's classic comes to the Hoogland for one weekend

Edward Albee referred to Our Town as "the greatest American play ever written."

Fellow playwright Dan Margulies said of Our Town, "Indeed, the play's success across cultural borders around the world attests to its being something much greater than an American play: it is a play that captures the universal experience of being alive. Our Town is anything but dated, it is timeless; it is simple, but also profound; it is full of genuine sentiment, which is not the same as it being sentimental; and, as far as it being uneventful, well, the event of the play is huge: it's life itself."

These assessments are perfectly stated by two brilliant minds and there are plenty more out there just like them. In fact, this entire article could easily be nothing but quotes by famous authors, artists and thinkers lauding the play for its timeless appeal and shared humanity. The Hoogland Center for the Arts is presenting a new multicultural production of this classic American play and I was able to watch a rehearsal last week.

In thinking about what I could write about this newest production, I found myself reminiscing about my own experiences with the play. As a senior in high school, I was cast as the Stage Manager in a school production that proved to be a cathartic and moving experience. As last week's rehearsal played out in front of me, memories started flowing back. "Who played Mrs. Webb?", "How did we stage that?" "Ahh yes...I remember that scene!" I even found myself mouthing a few lines as they found their way back to the front of my brain. But what struck me most, and what I remember more than anything is how grateful I was for the experience. Many students at the time, some of whom were also in the play, were grieving over the death of a classmate who passed away just before senior year. Our Town helped us process that grief. Last week, I realized it was still serving that same purpose, four decades later.

Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, is a three-act Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a fictional New Hampshire town. It follows the daily and mostly uneventful lives of its residents, in particular neighbors George Gibbs and Emily Webb. We watch as they become friends, fall in love and eventually marry. The play is presented with few props and little scenery, focusing instead on the people, their regular interactions, and ends with important life and death lessons. There's no suspenseful moment, no complex plot, no deeply conflicted characters moving toward self-realization. So why is the play so popular and deserving of praise? As Wilder himself once wrote: "The central theme of the play is the relation between the countless unimportant details of our daily life, on the one hand, and the great perspective of time, social history and current religious ideas." The play is about appreciating the ordinary, finding wonder in the simplest of things, and how important it is to embrace life and love while we're here and have the time.

The talented cast is an amalgam of familiar faces and new exciting ones. It includes Nicole Florence (Stage Manager), Mya Williams-Sutton (Emily), Connor McCloud (George), Jasmine French (Mrs. Webb), Nathan Carls (Mr. Webb), Jeff Prince (Doc Gibbs), Brittney McLaughlin (Mrs. Webb), Atlas Phemister (Wally), India Mitchell (Rebecca), Kathryn Harris (Professor), Julio Barrenzuela (Sam Craig), Dan Frachey (Joe Stoddard), Karen Gerdes (Mrs. Soames), Kevin Ford (Constable Warren), Brad Davis (Simon Stimson), Josh Ryder (Howie Newsom), Carrie Levin (Mrs. Morgan), and an ensemble of theater elders who will join the cast in Act Three, reminding us of those wise souls that have gone before us.

The creative team includes brilliant minds Leigh Steiner (director), Craig Williams II (set designer), Phil Funkenbusch (dramaturg), Beth Staff (costume designer), Matthew Albrecht (lighting designer), Mary Myers (Foley artist), Blake Martin (onstage musician), Sue Hamilton (musical director), Kim Bland (production stage manager), Gus Gordon (producer) and Claire Gordon (production coordinator).

It was clear to me last week that, despite the show not being in full tech yet, and the cast and staff still working out the logistics, and the fact that I came home, dug out my senior yearbook and have been feeling nostalgic ever since, this production is going to touch many and linger in their memory for a long time.

Our Town runs this weekend, April 28, 29 and 30. A pay-what-you-can preview/dress rehearsal is being offered on Thursday, April 27. Pay any amount from $1 and up. Weekend tickets can be purchased here: https://www.hcfta.org/tickets or by calling the box office at 217-523-2787

Mary Young was born and raised in Springfield has been performing in, producing and directing live theater for decades. She she's done film and voice-over work and performs with the improv troupe The Portuguese Rodeo Clown Company.