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Our Town 

A folksy play with a dark undertow of relevant wartime protest

Wednesday, Dec 15 2004
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Thornton Wilder's folksy play about Grovers Corners (actually Peterborough), N.H., has a dark undertow of protest that makes it relevant in wartime: At least one of the town boys will die in the First World War. But the play isn't about him. It's about a girl named Emily Webb who marries George Gibbs. And it's about a Stage Manager, self-consciously mounting a play about Emily and George long after they've grown up. The play is the one we're watching; Our Town is early metatheater. The experiment and the small-town criticism are so well-worn by now that they feel almost comfortable, like a threadbare La-Z-Boy. But two actors in this production make it worthwhile. Wanda McCaddon, as the Stage Manager, beautifully captures the slow, unfashionable, hopeful severity of an aging Yankee, in cords and a sweater and a collared shirt. She's cross-cast -- the Stage Manager is traditionally a man -- but that doesn't matter. Her flat realism keeps the narration from turning hokey. Lauren English is also energetic as Emily -- earnest, hesitant, chipper, cautious yet fierce-tempered, and "pretty enough for all normal purposes." When the story nearly goes off the rails in the third act, with its Spoon River Anthology-style treatment of a dying town, English saves it with a bit of potent, vivid acting. Very few of the actors here can manage a proper New Hampshire accent, and some of the scenes are stiff, but the pathos and grief Wilder wrote into the play come through beautifully well.

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