By Sarina D. ’19
The Crystal stage is constantly transforming. In the last few years, our incredible directors, actors, and Crü members have transported our stage into a 20th-century factory, an imaginary kingdom, and a 1980s office building. This time, our theater community is taking us back to 1901 Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire, for a classic in three acts–Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”
“Our Town” follows the story of the Stage Manager, who narrates a tale of life, love, and death. She commands the audience’s attention as she takes them into the lives of lifelong friends and neighbors Dr. Frank and Julia Gibbs, and Charles and Myrtle Webb, whose children, George Gibbs and Emily Webb, begin to form a romantic relationship. Emily is a bright girl who has been secretly in love with George for years, while George is an athletic schoolboy who is only beginning to notice Emily. Mrs. Morgan then moves the story to 1904, just before George and Emily are about to get married, providing background to the less-than-smooth road to their eventual romantic union and their fears about their future together and their adult lives. She finally fast forwards her narrative to 1913, in which Emily is about to give birth to her second child. In the process, she reflects on her life and thinks about her loved ones who are no longer with her, wishing she had seized the happy moments in life when they occurred.
“Our Town” is heartfelt, reflective, and poignant, and focuses on the complexities of our interpersonal relationships. When asked about why he chose the classic for this year’s fall play, director Ben Fisher told us, “I think Our Town is one of those plays everyone should read before they die. I think the what it has to say about the passage of time and finding significance from small, everyday moments is incredibly poignant, and I like the way it challenges our conventions about how to tell a story onstage. It’s stylistically very different from the other plays that CSUS has done in recent years, which was one reason I was drawn to it. It’s a story about how communities grow and change, and that feels especially relevant now given the way that the school is growing and changing. What I like most, however, is that this play is about young people. We meet a lot of different people in Grover’s Corners–the town the play depicts–but the two characters we follow most closely, Emily Webb and George Gibbs, are teenagers, looking ahead to an uncertain future with both excitement and dread. “Our Town” might be an old play, but it has a young heart.”
Cast members of “Our Town” couldn’t agree more that the play has a young heart at its core. Hayden Logan ‘19, who plays male lead George Gibbs, told us, “I’m most excited about performing a play that is meta-theatrical and that has the larger message of cherishing the little moments in life, and I’m interested to see how the play evolves from now to the finished product”.
But portraying such a classic story with so much depth and subtle complexity is no easy task. Student director Tess Bosley ‘19, who also plays Mrs. Gibbs, told us that one of the most challenging aspects of this particular production is ensuring that, though the dialogue is quaint, as the play is set over 100 years ago, the characters are still relatable to the audience and represent our current hopes, dreams and fears. In addition, cast members must really rely on their dialogue, expressions, and movement to a degree they have never had to before. Why? The entire show is mimed! The cast pretends that their props exist. Mr. Fisher explained, “Our Town is written in a style very much its own–one that constantly draws your attention to the fact you are watching a performance. Tables, chairs, and ladders stand in for everything from a house to a tombstone. There’s a character called the Stage Manager that narrates the play, interrupts scenes, moves us back and forward in time. It’s been a wonderful challenge to discover how to approach these different elements with the cast, because it’s a very different way of telling a story than a more plot-driven, naturalistic play” .
The play’s poetic passages and observations on life are nuanced, retrospective, and bound to resonate strongly with any audience. The script switches freely between the larger picture and the close-up, revealing both the complexities of human relationships and the overarching values and patterns that shape our habit-deadened lives. And the cast sure has risen to the challenge. As stated by Mr. Fisher, “The drama in ‘Our Town’ is very subtle, very understated, which can be very challenging for a performer, but folks are really rising to the occasion. It’s been wonderful to see everyone working to make these roles their own–finding little quirks with their characters, unexpected moments of humor or poignancy. That really makes all the difference. It’s the difference between just ‘putting on a show’ and being an artist.”
So don’t miss out! “Our Town” is coming to the Eric Bovet Theater at Crystal on Thursday November 8th and Friday 9th at 7:30 pm, and Saturday November 10th at 2:30pm! Come support your peers in the cast and Crü, and experience a poignant and captivating performance!