Thornton Wilder’s classic drama “Our Town” is about the passage of time, and how life is never truly appreciated while we’re living it. I fear the same will be true of the production currently on stage at the Little London Dinner Theater: Time will pass, the show will close, and not enough people will have appreciated this truly wonderful little gem while they had the chance.
The play is familiar; its no-frills set makes it a favorite among high schools and other theaters with limited means. It also has high potential for tedium, though, as it has very little action and a whole lot of talking.
Credit director Agnes Broberg and her talented cast, then, for making the show such a joy to watch. While some of the fringes are rough, the principal performances are genuine and moving. The wry, matter-of-fact folks of Grover’s Corners, N.H., seem as real as the people we know, despite their being 100 years removed from us and fictional.
Our guide through Grover’s Corners, circa 1901, is the Stage Manager, played with gentle charm and mild old-timer scratchiness by Tom Lamoreaux. He’s a quiet and affable host, perfectly setting the tone for the decidedly non-flashy play. I believe him when he addresses the audience as “friends.”
The first act takes us through a day in the life of the town. We meet Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs (Mel Broberg and Cosette West) and their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Webb (Peter Van Orman and Linda Williams-Van Orman). Each family has two children, but we are particularly introduced to George Gibbs and Emily Webb, teens who will get married in Act 2. Act 3 will show us that death is often the only thing that can make us appreciate life.
The two sets of parents are noble and strong and well-suited to their roles. But George and Emily — those young characters so dangerous because so much is required of the actors who play them — are magnificently portrayed by Nate Hoffman and Jessica Penovich. Hoffman’s George is lovably innocent, embodying the play as a whole, and Penovich gives a poignant, tearful performance as Emily. Between the two of them, and the rest of the highly motivated cast, there are some beautiful, beautiful moments.
The ideas expressed in “Our Town” are so profound, they seem simple: Reading about it, we think, well, of COURSE we don’t always appreciate life when we’re in the middle of it. But when it’s so lyrically written and so nicely performed, this deep-thinking, eminently human play is a breath of fresh air, an unabashedly heartfelt tribute to the American family.
We will save our wailing over the relative unpopularity of locally produced dramas (as opposed to comedies and musicals) for another time. Suffice it to say that even if you don’t normally bother with this sort of show, bother with this one. You will walk out of it feeling just as happy, fulfilled and enriched as if you’d just seen the funniest comedy or most toe-tapping musical.
"Our Town" was my first theater experience. My LDS stake produced it when I was 10 years old, and I played Wally Webb. I had one line -- "Aw, Ma, by 10 o'clock, I gotta know all about Canada -- and my voice cracked when I said it.
I subsequently saw a college production when I was in high school and was profoundly bored by it. I remembered the play as being three hours long; turns out it's actually under two hours. Now I have fond memories of the show, thanks to Little London.