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Full circle: Little Theatre's production of 'Our Town' gets to the meat of life 

The niceties of a play—that is a set and props, elaborate costumes, and the creation of a world the audience can seen but remains invisible to—are all stripped aside in favor of the stuff of life that actually matters in the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s production of Our Town.

click to enlarge LIFE:  Emily Webb (Erin Parsons, left) and George Gibbs (Cameron Parker, right) talk from neighboring windows. Elsewhere in town, Simon Stinson (Gregory Gorrindo, center) leads choir practice. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE DUTRO MCNAMARA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE DUTRO MCNAMARA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • LIFE: Emily Webb (Erin Parsons, left) and George Gibbs (Cameron Parker, right) talk from neighboring windows. Elsewhere in town, Simon Stinson (Gregory Gorrindo, center) leads choir practice.

On opening night on May 12, the revered and mysterious fourth wall was almost immediately broken down by Tom Ammon in the role of the stage manager, speaking candidly to the audience about everything from the demographics, history, and personal lives of the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners, a fictional town in New Hampshire. Followng the lives of two families, the story sweeps us through growing up, falling in love, and dealing with loss. Written by the great American playwright Thornton Wilder, Our Town is set in the years between 1901 and 1913. On the surface the characters are boring, ordinary people living in a time unlike the present day. But if you dig just a little deeper, it’s clear that human interactions and relationships still remain highly relatable.

In his director’s note for the show, Kevin Harris, the theatre’s managing artistic director, wrote about all the stages of life the play hits on. “Those incredible transitions where you, as a human, are able to make choices that potentially alter your entire path … . And finally myself: almost halfway through my own journey, my feet comfortably in both camps: as a father and son, as an embarrassed child and reluctant adult.”

click to enlarge LOVE:  Emily Webb (Erin Parsons, left) and George Gibbs (Cameron Parker, right) share a moment of understanding. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE DUTRO MCNAMARA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE DUTRO MCNAMARA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • LOVE: Emily Webb (Erin Parsons, left) and George Gibbs (Cameron Parker, right) share a moment of understanding.

In keeping up the tradition of this metatheatrical production, the Little Theatre had a sparse stage, employing only a few tables, chairs, and ladders as windowsills. Some twinkle lights softened the room. The play is told in three acts: Daily Life, Love and Marriage, and Death and Eternity, with two 10-minute intermissions.

Ammon as stage manager straddles the line between audience members and the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners, sharing intimate details of the characters’ lives and waving them off stage to cue the next scene. Actors masquerading as audience members shouted out questions during a lecture-style part of the show. Soon into the play, Ammon introduced the audience to two families, next-door neighbors, whose lives intersect as the story progresses. There’s Gibbs’ residence, home to Dr. Gibbs (Gregg Wolff); his wife, Julia (Patty Thayer); and his kids, George (Cameron Parker) and Rebecca (Penny DellaPelle). And just over the fence is Editor Webb (Stuart Wenger) who runs the local paper; his wife, Myrtle Webb (Alicia Klein); and children, Emily Webb (Erin Parsons) and Wally Webb (Phineas Peters).

click to enlarge BROKEN WALL :  The stage manager (Tom Ammon) serves as the audience’s guide through the lives of the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners in 'Our Town.' - PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE DUTRO MCNAMARA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE DUTRO MCNAMARA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • BROKEN WALL : The stage manager (Tom Ammon) serves as the audience’s guide through the lives of the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners in 'Our Town.'

Moments like a blushing Emily and George running into each other outside the schoolhouse, the duo talking about homework from their windows as they look at the stars, and an angry Emily tearfully telling George he’s become stuck up in high school, are sprinkled throughout the story as life progress to its inevitable, but nonetheless pleasing outcome. While George’s mom, Julia, muses that “people are meant to go through life two by two. ’Tain’t natural to be lonesome,” Wilder isn’t just chiefly concerned with romantic relationships. Scenes like Julia telling Myrtle of her dreams to see Paris while the two women shuck peas or Editor Webb kindly offering to walk the town drunk Simon Stinson (Gregory Gorrindo) home, shed light on our shared need to connect with one another.

While the highs of acts I and II leave you in a hopeful place (albeit maybe wondering about the path of your own life), act III, Death and Eternity, as the name promises, spares no feelings or tears. In a graveyard scene after a funeral, deceased inhabitants of Grover’s Corners wax poetic on what it means to be alive and how life is often wasted until it’s gone. One recently departed member of the community posed a question to the rest of the graveyard dwellers, that’s perhaps lacking in a satisfactory answer.

WELCOME TO GROVER’S CORNERS :  Our Town will show at the SLO Little Theatre through May 28. Tickets range from $15 to $32. Visit slolittletheatre.org for more information.
  • WELCOME TO GROVER’S CORNERS : Our Town will show at the SLO Little Theatre through May 28. Tickets range from $15 to $32. Visit slolittletheatre.org for more information.

“Does anybody realize what life is while they’re living it—every, every minute?”

Ryah Cooley is gazing out the window at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

 

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