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Wilder’s “Our Town” at STNJ
by Sherri Rase     |     Bookmark and Share
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photo by ©Gerry Goodstein
(foreground) Philip Goodwin as the Stage Manager (rear) Nisi Sturgis as Emily & Jordan Coughtry as George
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Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s current offering of its 2013 season is Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town.” I blush to admit that, while it was a play that was done at one of the high schools that I attended, it is only now that I’ve seen it performed. And a dazzling performance it was.
For those who are unfamiliar with the play, we are looking at different times in the lives of the denizens of Grover’s Corners New Hampsha–uh–Hampshire and especially at two neighboring families, the Gibbs and the Webbs. Predictably, their two respective eldest fall in love and George Gibbs and Emily Webb will marry in Act Two, as people did in the early 1900s, prior to the rise of Internet dating. Nisi Sturgis and Jordan Coughtry play Emily and George with such aching youth and stormy innocence that, several times before it’s articulated in Act Two, you will contemplate the quote most often attributed to George Bernard Shaw that “youth is wasted on the young.” George is a baseball star and Emily is a brilliant scholar and a proper young woman and they both find much to admire in one another. It is an adolescent call-and-response that happens between these two, as chemistry brings them together, even while propriety dictates their behavior toward one another. Marion Adler and Malachy Cleary, as Mrs. and Dr. Gibbs, keep George in check and refine his rough spots to make him worthy. Allison Daugherty and James Michael Reilly are Mrs. and Mr. Webb, Emily’s folks, and Mrs. Webb has a different, yet still deft, touch with her progeny and Mr. Webb is the editor of the town paper. Perhaps this is why Emily is such an avid reader, and so good at Math and Latin and the other educational graces of the early 20th century. Philip Goodwin sets the stage and stirs the pot as our Stage Manager and the sparseness of the set and the mimed props add to the charm of the kernels of goodness throughout the three acts. Especially charming to me is the scene where Goodwin, as druggist Mr. Morgan, mimes creating two ice cream sodas that George and Emily later consume in mime—brilliant and nearly visible and audible! In contrast with the very serious nature of their conversation, however, there is the tangible sense of the momentousness of the occasion and that is what will remain with you long afterward.
The sheer understated drama of the final act is what brings the tears to the eye. People with familiar faces sit composed and quiet in hard-back chairs looking forward with no animation, very much unlike how we’d seen them earlier. We then discover that the empty chair in that array is being saved for a young woman, only 26 years old, who has recently joined their ranks. The Stage Manager has magical powers and takes Emily back in time to her own 12th birthday, when her parents, and the world, were much younger. Her crushing pain at remembering the dearest details, which at the time were so mundane, is far too great. She rejoins the company of those who have gone to the great Beyond, leaving those of us here to contemplate how truly wonderful our days really are, despite the minutiae that occupy our minds. Activities divide our days now, as they did then, but people are still at the heart of our lives. Take your loved ones by the hand and share this experience with them. Unlike Emily, time is still on your side.
“Our Town” is playing through November 17. Check www.shakespearenj.org for times and dates and remember to sample the restaurants in the area. Box Office times will also be listed and this show makes a great birthday present or a thoughtful early Holiday gift. Give your loved ones an experience they will not soon forget, Shakespeare for the holidays!




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