Four Reasons to Make “Our Town” a Must-See.

January 22, 2012

our town

1. You’ll want to get to know the work of Chicago director David Cromer, developing a well-deserved reputation for his ability to inject new life into good-to-great old plays. How lucky I was to happen to be in New York in time to catch his sadly ill-fated revival of “Brighton Beach Memoirs”; I was frankly amazed at the emotionality he brought out of what people always write off as a synthetic middlebrow comedy. Earlier, he found a way to make Elmer Rice’s musty “Adding Machine” fresh and contemporary in its musical incarnation, no mean feat. Cromer approaches well-known texts without cynicism or condescension, yet digs deeply into the text to question previous assumptions. The result is always intelligent and often magical. I won’t breathe a word about the coup which raises Act III to a breathless level of theatricality, but I will say I’ll never forget it, and I hope I never see this play done again without this particular touch included.

2. He’s also great with actors. Helen Hunt – who replaced Cromer himself as the contemporary, matter-of-fact stage manager in the New York incarnation – has never been so unfussy, so unmannered, but then every member of the company lives his or her role with distinction. (Watch the faces, especially the faces of those on the sidelines in the smallest roles, and learn something about acting expressively without words, lines or focus.) And while the Emily (Jennifer Grace) and George (James McMenamin), also Chicago and Gotham carryovers, aren’t conventionally pretty and in fact are both considerably older than their roles, I don’t think I ever perceived the *layers* of sweetness in these characters’ relationship quite so fully before. Sure, their romance is meant to be symbolically idyllic. But in these actors’ hands, theirs is more than mere puppy love; you discern a lifetime of loyalty and devotion in every line reading. Albeit a lifetime tragically cut short by fate, which leads me to reason #3:

3. Thornton Wilder’s themes – about the transcience of life and the need to grasp it full out, every day – come through with a clarity and beauty that will make you see this play for the first time. And if it is indeed for the first time:

4. This classic of the American drama may never be performed so beautifully again. In your or my lifetime, anyway. Go.

“Our Town,” which graces the Broad Stage in Santa Monica through Feb. 12, runs two hours and 15 minutes.



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