By Julia Doerr
Our Town, Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Wednesday April 13, 2022, 7PM
There is possibly no more classic or quintessential American play than Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. It premiered in 1938 and is set in New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th century, specifically 1902-1913, but its themes are so universal that it transcends the limits of its place and time. Nevertheless, the Nebraska Repertory Theatre’s current production adds a few tweaks which freshen up the play for today’s audience. It makes for a good evening of thoughtful entertainment.
The most noticeable tweak is in the inclusiveness of the casting. In a program note, director Arthur Feinsod says this production “imagines what an early-twentieth-century Grovers Corners might have looked like if it could have become truly inclusive and diverse, with no religious, racial, or ethnic intolerance or bias-based restrictions standing in the way of its formation, eventual appearance and daily observation.” This is done matter-of-factly without adding a thing to the script itself. We merely observe that the characters who populate Grovers Corners are of diverse skin colors, even within the two families at the center of the play’s story. One character uses a wheelchair. Nothing is said about any of this; it is just there to be noticed and accepted as normal.
In most professional productions of this play that I have seen, both on stage and on television, much is made of the New England Americana of the setting by the use of accents and stereotypical taciturnity in the acting style. That is not attempted in this production, which is another tweak that invites the audience to focus on the universality of its themes. Our Town is a play about love, marriage, death but also the repeated life cycle among human beings and eternity itself.
Our Town has been described as “metatheatrical,” which means it is a play that portrays itself as a play. At its center is the character called The Stage Manager, who serves as narrator, supposed director of the action, sound-effects man, and a bit player in a few of the scenes. Christopher Austin is for sure the actor made for this job, and he plays the role in a fresh way. His is the outstanding performance of the show, though the rest of the cast is strong and well matched.
Finally, a significant tweak—a significant enhancement—of the production is the addition of an original musical score composed by Craig Woertz. The music is nicely performed by a small ensemble of string players with piano, and it fits naturally and seamlessly into the performance. Bravo.
If you go: Our Town runs Apr. 13-Apr. 16 and Apr. 20-Apr. 24. Wed-Sat. 7pm and Sun. 2pm. Note that there is no performance on Easter Sunday, April 17th. Tickets can be purchased at https://nebraskarep.org.
Julia Doerr is a retired high school English teacher and lifelong lover of theater.
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