Our Town by Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre July 4-16 2017. A review.

Our Town by Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre July 4-16 2017. A review.

Written in 1938, Our Town by the celebrated author and playwright Thornton Wilder, remains a perennial classic of the North American theatrical canon. This simple story, staged without many of the common artifices, is a favourite of community theatres, colleges and universities, but is not often staged professionally given the large cast of nineteen. For 2017 Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre surveyed their patrons to select works for a second People’s Choice season (the company’s ninth) and Our Town was the drama chosen.

Over the past nine years Blue Bridge has earned a well-deserved reputation for producing high quality work on a limited budget with a dedicated ensemble of players (including founding members) designers and crew. Artistic Director Brian Richmond (the director of Our Town) has a rigorous text-based approach to any work and consistently finds interesting ways to bring truth to the stage for an average audience to understand. It’s one thing to do a deep-dive into a literary work to mine all the meaning but how this meaning comes alive is what continues to draw theatre patrons to live performance.

It seems at first blush so inconsequential—the average day-to-day comings and goings of a small (fictional) town in New Hampshire, Grover’s Corners, population 2642, circa 1901 to 1913. There’s a certain aura of nostalgia and would have been even for 1938 audiences, but Wilder’s poetic language, universal truths and insights take the work to another level, affirming our shared humanity with great power.

Although truly an ensemble piece with actors ranging in age from 11 (Jack-Harris Bruce) to 71 (Malcolm Everett Harvey), Our Town centres around two families—the Gibbs—Mr. Gibbs the town doctor (Brian Linds), his wife (Cyllene Richmond), daughter Emily (Grace Vukovic), son Wally (Chase Hiebert) and the Webbs—Mr. Webb the publisher of the town newspaper (Michael Armstrong), his wife (Shauna Baird), son George (Julien Bruce) and daughter Rebecca (Lucy Sharples). Perhaps one of Wilder’s greatest inventions in this meta-theatrical masterpiece is the introduction of the character of the Stage Manager (Gary Farmer) who narrates and explains the ebb and flow of days, months and years.  Farmer exudes bonhomie and friendliness, enticing the audience into the action, making members participants rather than spectators.

Gary Farmer as Stage Manager. Photo: Barbara Pedrick

Giles Hogya’s magnificent lighting becomes almost a character unto itself, painting the set and backdrops with the changing of time. One particularly luminous scene sees Bruce and Vukovic perched high on ladders (which pass for their second story bedroom windows) conversing back and forth under the “terrible” moonlight, as Emily calls it.  It’s a moment of indescribable beauty rendered all the more moving by the vulnerable and tender performances of the young actors.

Jason King’s soundscape provides an exquisite and rich textural layer—the clip-clopping of Dolly’s hooves and her snorting, crickets chirping softly in the warm summer air, a sharp intake of breath as the world stops for an instant,  the wind whooshing in the hilltop graveyard, the cry of the train whistle and clinking of milk bottles.

Patricia O’Reilly’s costumes are humble—there is nothing overly fancy or ostentatious about the town’s people’s garb, the palate in muted creams, browns, beiges and greys, material slightly stiff as befits the days before polyester or dryers—yet under the golden tones of certain lighting, possess a luxurious patina.  This patina extends to the set, with a gauzy curtain that opens carefully at the onset, and the giant Tree of Life as backdrop. A jumble of assorted tables and chairs are swiftly moved to create rooms.

Music adds another element—music director Sarah Tradewell’s violin keens mournfully and jigs joyously while R.J. Peters’ mandolin plucks the passage of minutes and Sheldon Graham’s guitar strums along with boisterous dances and solemn hymns.  The Congregational choir and practice are a key element in the town’s people’s lives with the hymn Blessed be the Tie that Binds, a touchstone throughout. Choir director Simon Stimson (Jacob Richmond) is a hard taskmaster, his alcoholism and troubles widely acknowledged and excused by the townsfolk. Richmond has an edge that conveys deep turmoil yet brings heart-felt passion to the singing of Handel’s Largo at Emily and George’s wedding in a stand-out moment, followed by rambunctious and cheerful dancing (choreography Treena Stubel). As with every Blue Bridge production, Iris MacGregor Bannerman provides invaluable assistance with dialects.

Julien Bruce as George Gibbs and Grace Vukovic as Emily Webb. Photo: Barbara Pedrick

There’s a constancy in the daily routine, as Howie Newsome (Laurence Dean Infill) delivers the milk, Joe Crowell (Ellis Frank) and later his brother Si (Jack-Harris Bruce) the newspaper and Constable Warren (Malcolm Harvey) makes his nightly rounds.  Certain characters are more quarrelsome than others— Jana Morrison makes frequent appearances as the gossipy Mrs. Soames—some are brighter—Professor Willard (Julian Cervello) entertains with his lecture on the geological and anthropological antecedents of the town. Overall the Gibbs and the Webbs are placid and avuncular people—content to spend a lifetime in quiet and companionable conversation with their spouses, and prone to worry about their offspring.  Life before the radio and television was filled with a profoundly different rhythm—one that is perhaps impossible to grasp in our age of distraction.

Of course, in life there is death as well as love; at the culmination of the piece Wilder moves into deeply metaphysical territory where its beauty is truly revealed under Richmond’s adroit and expert guidance.

When you walk away from an evening of theatre with your heart swelling in profound gratitude at being alive, having shared time with characters who feel like they could be your friends and neighbours, bound together in the company of other enthusiasts….. this is theatrical success.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder, directed by Brian Richmond
Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre at the Roxy (in Quadra Village)
July 4-16, 2017

Tickets $20-47 online, by phone 250 382 3370 or in person at the Roxy Theatre box office Tuesday-Saturday, 12pm-4pm

Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets to attend the opening of Our Town.

About @lacouvee

Community Builder. Catalyst. Speaker. Writer. Arts Advocate.

Passionate about bridging online and offline communities to effect positive change.

I truly believe that one person can make a difference and that we all have our own lives to live, creatively, while respecting the unique nature of others.

Speak Your Mind