Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our Town: Comfort Food for the Soul

Our Town:  Comfort Food for the Soul

The 2013 Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Our Town (September 26 through October 27, 2013) is a transport back to simpler times when homemade cookies and milk freshly delivered by the dairy farmer characterized daily life.

PPT’s production of this venerable play penned by Thornton Wilder opens with “Stage Manager”, ably played by veteran Pittsburgher Tom Atkins (“The Chief") verbally  painting the picture of 1901 Grover’s Corners, NH.   The physical attributes of the small town, with its layout, descriptions of the movers and shakers, and the various homey details that characterized early 20th Century life in New England come to life for the audience despite the minimal set.  Grover’s Corners is portrayed as a quaint and charming mix of rural and city.   The town doctor is off delivering twins in “Polish Town”.  His wife, Mrs. Gibbs, and the neighbor’s wife, Mrs. Webb, have mirror gardens, with Mrs. Webb adding a soupcon of individuality with towering sunflowers to the mix of beans and heliotrope.  The daily chores of early morning breakfast preparation and getting the children off to school, not too dissimilar to modern families, lend familiarity that transcends time.

As the play progresses, we see other hints of the familiar…the classroom crush, the adulation of a sports figure, respect and concern for the hardworking neighbors.  These all serve as an escape, a salve for the over-stressed and over-connected audience who is seeking a respite from their everyday lives with the continuous avalanche of bad news.  Yes, there is bad news in Grover’s Corners, but perhaps the pace is more acceptable, the volume of negativity more absorbable.

The rhythms of life – birth, marriage, death – are set with minimal distractions.  The costuming is bland so as not to stand out.  The few chairs, tables, ladders that represent the staging are effective if nonintrusive.  Even the pantomime of meal preparation, carrying books and leading the horse delivering the milk wagon through the town are evocative without being overly trite.  Preparation of the strawberry sodas at the drug store/apothecary produced a chuckle of memory from many in the audience – helped along by Atkins’ mobile expressions.

Our Town’s ensemble cast, liberally full of Gibbs’, Webb’s, other small town characters and ‘citizens’, weave Wilder’s words to create the meatloaf and mashed potatoes of small town country living that gives comfort without being sappy  . . . comfort food for the soul.  

Reviewed by Joyce Kane on behalf of Positively Pittsburgh Live! Magazine.

Joyce Kane is the owner of Cybertary Pittsburgh, a Virtual Administrative support company, providing virtual office support, personal and executive assistance, creative design services and light bookkeeping.  Cybertary works with businesses and busy individuals to help them work 'on' their business rather than 'in' their business.

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