Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Playwright Thornton Wilder’s, arguably quintessential philosophical play, “Our Town”, is a snapshot study of 20th-century American small town life.  Written in 1938 the play presented a view of a society that was kinder, gentler, and less chaotic than our 21st century of life in America.  The messages from that seminal 1938 play are sorely needed today.

The current production of “Our Town” now on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse is performed by Deaf/West Theatre (DWT), one of America’s finest production companies that present theatre for the hearing impaired.

The production deftly directed by Sheryl Kaller, delivers the play’s dialogue in both American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English with hearing actors. The unique format was a huge hit on Broadway and regional theatres with the musicals “Big River”, and “Spring Awakening”; a few years ago with both earning Tony Nominations. Now the fictional small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, joins the ranks DWT productions.

“Our Town” tells the story of one American small town between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its residents. To help the audience become in engaged, Wilder uses the character of the Stage Manager played by Jane Kaczmarek, as our guide, as a way of introducing the other characters and how they interact with the rest of the outstanding eighteen member cast. .Kaczmarek talks to the audience and the actors during the play intentionally breaking the fourth wall.

Director Kaller, stages her production in the traditional sparse bare stage concept, along with a couple of ladders that will become the homes of the Webb and the Gibbs families (where all the home life actions are mimed).  And of course there is always a boy/girl story element. The boy is George Webb, sensitively played by Deric Augustine, who will finally discover the girl next door; Emily Webb (wonderfully played by Sandra Mae Frank).  They are high school students as well as neighbors:  Emily is an innocent, and George is a little shy and a little callow.  Wilder was a keen observer of 20th century American life and remember, it’s 1901 America and it’s refreshingly charming.

Mrs. Gibbs (lovingly played by Alexandria Wailes) and Doc Gibbs, the weary town physician is nicely played by Jud Williford.  While all of the actors either perform their roles using ASL or their own voices, the roles of Emily, Editor Webb, Mrs. Gibbs, and Howie Newsome are brilliantly voiced by Sharon Pierre-Louis, Leonard Kelly-Young, Marie-France Arcilla, and David Gautreaux respectively.  Troy Kotsur, Annika Marks, Russell Harvard, Harold Foxx, Amanda McDonough, On Shiu, Natasha Ofili, Dot-Marie-Jones, and Marco Gutierrez, offer solid support.

Director Kaller nicely solves the daunting undertaking of this production – the melding of Deaf/West Theatre company members with speaking actors.  The traffic management issues on a bare stage leave little margin for error.  Kaller and the entire company of Grover’s Corners carry off the effort with aplomb. And the audience on opening night just ate it up.
There is a lot of magic taking place on the stage throughout, but for me, Act III, is one act that tears your heart out.  If it doesn’t, then you need to visit your cardiologist right away.  There is so much wisdom being spoken in the cemetery scene and still we haven’t learned our lessons about life, and alas, it’s 2017.  Puck and the Bard were correct: “What fools these mortals be”

In the technical department led by director Kaller, the sparse scenic design by David Meyer works for a busy stage full of actors. The costumes designed by Ann Closs Farley, are spot-on and period appropriate, and the lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg deliver mood-inducing moments, of which there are many.  The sound design by Leon Rothenberg and Jonathan Burke complete the creative team.  Specials kudos go to ASL Masters Joshua Castille and Charles Katz, for their assistance in presenting “Our Town” as an American experience that can be enjoyed by all.

This inspired production of “Our Town” performs at the Pasadena Playhouse, and runs through to October 22nd.  Don’t Miss It!.


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