Beauty and truth inhabit Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s enduring classic, living now at UNO Theatre. Director D. Scott Glasser superbly brings out the play’s many virtues with a fine cast of students and community performers.
The fact that this play has become so well-known and so familiar does not diminish its worth any more than would a re-visit to a symphony by Beethoven. Indeed, experiencing the familiar themes and chords of Wilder’s masterpiece reminds us anew of how it can move us emotionally, telling us to cherish life while we have it, the essence of this microcosm of eternity.
Glasser’s program notes make it clear that he sees Our Town as being not only about American life; he sees it as global. This vision of the cycle of birth to death in small town, innocent American life cannot be taken as a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Its very simplicity parallels everyday existence in towns and countrysides from Korea to Mexico, from Qatar to Uruguay, from Sri Lanka to Nigeria.
To that end, Glasser incorporates choral groups with international roots, singing songs of their own indigenous cultures. That brief harmony with them carries emotional weight, saying that, under the skin, we are all family.
Glasser erases some of the boundaries set in the original concept wherein the fatherly Stage Manager calls attention to theatricality, Brecht-like, as if at a remove rather than as part of all that transpires. Glasser has his cast take over those narrative speeches, bringing us closer. Further, he eliminates references in the program book to the titles of the three acts, as if to get us to forget that this is theatrical artifice and to suggest a more natural flow of time.
Scenic and Lighting Designer Steven L. Williams and Projections Designer Aaron Zavitz enhance the meaning and the atmosphere with wonderful images of the earth, the moon and many manifestations of the world out there. A moonlit night feels especially embracing.
The 20-member cast makes a perfect ensemble, speaking, moving, intertwining, a genuine, expression of community togetherness. Within that group, Kenny Glenn, Lauren White and Timothy Mantil especially stand out. Glenn warms the spaces as wise Mr. Webb, full of knowing charm. White’s version of Mrs. Gibbs stays so emotionally alive that you may want to reach out and hold her, especially when you see her sorrow about George’s readying himself to leave home to venture into the complexities of marriage. And Mantil’s George moves seamlessly and believably from a vulnerable, awkward adolescent to a man ready and able to take on the role of full-fledged adulthood.
Glasser makes this all look like real life, never forced, having the scenes paced in a seemingly unhurried way, as if dovetailing with the kind of place Wilder evoked. For example, the courtship scene between Emily and George, one of the plays most endearing parts, comes across as sweetly as the richness of their ice cream sodas.
And the final scene at the cemetery, the heart and soul of Wilder’s sort of sermon, is delivered so movingly that you may feel compelled to reach out immediately to those you love to let them know that they make life meaningful. Don’t wait.
Our Town stays through Oct.7 at Weber Fine Arts Building, UNO. 6001 Dodge Street. Weds.-Sat. 7:30 pm.. Tickets: $5- $16, UNO students: free. www.unomaha.edu/unotheatre