It is rare to encounter a work both relevant to the era of its writing yet with a timelessness that applies to the present day. Playwright Thornton Wilder achieved this dual feat through Our Town. His Great Depression era masterpiece included themes and ideas just as important in the twenty first century.
It’s difficult to imagine a play written in 1938 could relate to the coronaera. The production team and cast at the Show Must Go Online Productions showed why. They presented a socially distanced version of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town this August 1st. Your correspondent attended the Zoom presentation of this American classic.
Our Town proved itself a great choice to perform. The show appeased community theatre fans longing for live arts. It provided some solace for those whose travel plans have been preempted by the pandemic; especially those interested in visiting the Northeast. The play also allowed its spectators to journey back to a simpler time prior to shut downs, social distancing and economic calamities. The Show Must Go Online allowed the audience to take a voyage to Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire during the early decades of the twentieth century.
The show’s unusual format allowed for a smooth adjustment to the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. To the delight of directors everywhere, Mr. Wilder set Our Town in the theatre that presents it. The playwright called upon the audience to use their imagination in order to envision the places described; and his text illustrated them in detail. That made the role of the narrator, in the character of the Stage Manager, a vital role in the show’s presentation.
The tasks required of his character make quite a challenge for any performer. The Stage Manager served as a moderator during the question-and-answer segments, expressed Wilder’s elaborate imagery detailing the people and places in Grover’s Corners while delivering some of the most emotional oratory ever spoken on stage.
Sam Dressler displayed an exceptional interpretation of this crucial role. Mr. Dressler delivered Mr. Wilder’s eloquent prose with the poise and grace the text required. Her spoke his lines with the professionalism of someone reciting an audiobook.
While the Stage Manager broke the fourth wall, he also interacted with the characters in the play. Mr. Dressler played a wonderful ice cream vendor in his interactions with George Gibbs (Aaron Wachs) and Emily Webb (Amelia Ann Ball).
Teenaged sweethearts George and Emily developed into deceptively complex characters. Both Aaron Wachs and Amelia Ann Ball played these roles to perfection.
Aaron Wachs captured the mannerisms and speech patterns of a teenaged boy. Mr. Wachs showed the character’s steady development from a naïve young man into an adult. This entailed expressing George’s transition from the idealism of playing baseball and going to college into the realism of becoming a husband and working on a farm. Mr. Wachs portrayed all the facets of this character brilliantly.
Amelia Ann Ball brought passion into her portrayal of Emily Webb. She began by playing the character as a coy teenager. Then she showed Emily’s development into a woman. Ms. Ball delivered an extraordinary performance during the third act. Her acting moved the audience to feel Emily’s heart breaking.
This show featured a virtual theatre first for your correspondent. The production team added sound effects. They included those of a crowing rooster, a train, a factory whistle and wedding music.
The performers showed enthusiasm for getting into character. Greg Northam creatively used a pipe and a laid-back speaking style for Charles Webb. Marci Lumer added authentic period costuming to Mrs. Julia Gibbs’ persona. Ms. Lumer also showed an excellent stoic look during the entire third act.
The complete cast list was as follows:
Stage Manager: Sam Dressler
George Gibbs: Aaron Wachs
Emily Webb: Amelia Ann Ball
Dr. Frank Gibbs: Bob Quintana
Mrs. Julia Gibbs: Marci Lumer
Mrs. Myrtle Webb: Sarah Pardys
Mr. Charles Webb: Greg Northam
Simon Stimpson: Kevin Ball
Rebecca Gibbs: Angela Robb
Howie Newsome/Sam Craig: Jeff Parsons
Constable Warren: Richard Hall
Woman in Auditorium/Mrs. Soames: Nance Reeves
Wally Webb/Man in Auditorium/Si Crowell/Baseball Players 1 & 3/Joe Stoddard: Drew Musto
Lady in the Box: Judy Musto
Professor Willard/Dead Woman: Nancy Singer
Baseball Player 2/Dead Man: Roy Belzer
Joe Crowell: Eric Raymond
In addition, Bob Quintana’s dog made an uncredited appearance on screen.
The show began almost ten minutes after its scheduled start time. The number of people in the cast along with the complexities of presenting an online performance create unforeseen challenges. The delayed opening could be excused for these reasons.
Our Town showed audiences how people often overlook the pleasures of daily life; most times, not even realizing they exist. How could a moral like this become more relevant 82 years after its initial performance? When the Show Must Go Online presented this play, the daily lives of Americans had been disrupted for four months and counting. Mr. Wilder’s masterpiece may prove to be more timeless than even the playwright had hoped.