"Our Town" is at home in Milwaukee
All photos by Michael Brosilow.
"So, people a thousand years from now: this is the way we were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. This is the way we were, in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying."
Running through May 13th, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater is bringing Thornton Wilder's theatrical standard to life on the Quadracci Powerhouse stage, under the direction of Brent Hazelton. This delicate piece evokes a deep nostalgia for the lives of 1900s Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, and nestles in hearts throughout 2018 Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Laura Gordon serves as the thread that weaves audiences throughout Grover's Corners, in the past, present, and future. Gordon's narrations illuminate the path through the life of Emily, and the many lives she touches. With a wistful tone and honest approach, Gordon's role elevates audiences to the simple truths presented in this American classic.
Cher Desiree Alvarez and Di'Monte Henning play childhood sweethearts Emily and George Gibbs. As the characters age and grow, Alvarez and Henning reveal hidden depths in their individual performances. Henning's George is, intellectually, no match to the algebra whiz Emily, which makes it all the more charming when he decrees the depths of his love.
Alvarez, as Emily, is everything. She begins as an awkward, naive teenager, whose heart is big enough to love her family, her friends, George, and the entire town. Then, as the tale runs towards its' inevitable climax, Alvarez brings Emily to a tender, vulnerable place. Here we see the child grow into an adult as she learns the subtleties of life, and how we ought to love it. Tying it all together is Alvarez's laugh, a radiant token of genuineness in her character.
As Our Town is a minimalistic piece of theatre, it is not uncommon to see objects merely suggested through the use of mime. However, with additions by sound designer Barry G. Funderburg, the Milwaukee Rep's production is nestled cozily in the realm between reality and imagination. While theatregoers don't see coffee cups and morning newspapers, they are still greeted by the soft thud of the paper against the door and the steady stream of the kettle being filled.
Throughout the piece, Hazelton proves time and time again that classic theatre still has a place on a modern stage. Our Town doesn't feel dated under his hand - instead, we see a refreshing reminiscence of all we hold dear. Nuanced lighting (Noele Stollmack) and set (Scott Davis) bring us beyond Grover's Corners, and ever closer to that eternal something at the end of humanity. This production reminds us that life, in its purest form, need not be extravagant to be beautiful. May we all have the courage to open our eyes and see it.