Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Our Town at Whitworth (with added diatribe)

The Whitworth Theater Dept. presents Our Town (1938) by Thornton Wilder in Cowles Auditorium on Oct. 14-15 and Oct. 21-22 at 8 pm, and on Oct. 16 at 2 pm. Tickets: $5. Call 777-3707.

Philip Lacey plays the Stage Manager and Caleb Barber plays George; both were in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Whitworth two years ago. Kaliene Roth will play Emily -- and there are 17 other Whitworth students in the cast.

So what will this production do that a thousand others haven't?

Director Brooke Kiener has a jokey response: "Didn't I mention that we're doing it in the nude, with glow-in-the-dark body paint and black lights? Just kidding."

Kiener, an adjunct theater instructor at Whitworth, continues: "Really, my intention with this play wasn't to break new ground, or to show the world an Our Town that has never been seen before. Yes this show is performed hundreds of times each
year, in productions that are tired and melodramatic."

She was a little skeptical about Wilder's warhorse -- "But when I looked at the script again," she says, "I was struck by the
show's themes, its complex simplicity, if you will. I enjoyed re-reading it, delighted in all the little theatrical bits (the sound
effects, the stage manager's comments...) that I had forgotten about. I even got a little teary at the end. This show really embraces the concept that the stage is a metaphor for the world, for life. And it is optimistic, and I wanted to work on something that gave me hope."

And the play presents some teaching opportunities, too. "Our Town is a deceptively difficult show for actors, a great learning experience for our students," Kiener says. "The characters age 13 years during the life of the play, and there is a "stiff upper lip" quality that characterizes New Englanders and that is difficult for young actors to grasp."

With the first act seemingly just about humdrum small-town life, does it come as a surprise when Wilder gets all profound on us? *** WARNING: Spoiler Alert (for a 67-year-old play) *** Act One is about establishing the George-Emily (and other) relationships, Kiener notes, " So you aren't that surprised when they get married in Act Two. I think you expect something "dark" in Act Three, so I don't think Act Three is a big shocker really. You realize pretty fast that someone has died. I think the scene that makes or breaks the lesson of Act Three is when Emily returns to life and is trying to get her mother to slow down, stop fussing over breakfast and notice the moments that are slipping by. I think if the actress playing Emily can convey all of her frustration, her efforts, the angst of carrying the perspective that death has provided her while trying to interact with the living ... if [Roth] can convey how painful that is, then the audience gets it, and we can all go home and call our parents and tell them that we love them and promise ourselves we'll slow down and be more observant."

SECOND WARNING *** The following is probably only for folks who are really interested in set design:
Asked about the set for her production of Our Town, Kiener replied:
"Truly, in our auditorium, to not have any kind of structure on the stage that provides levels and architecture is deadly.
Our auditorium just isn't raked enough and the stage is eye level for the front row, so to do the play as Wilder intended, with no scenery, just wasn't possible. So we built small platforms, one on each side of the stage, and we use them as the two houses, and as Mr. Morgan's drugstore, and then we've "spilled" some of the "graves" over the stage left platform as well. I was nervous at first, that I might be doing too much, working against the inherent theatricality of the piece, but they've turned out to be another interesting convention in the world of this play, and they've saved me from major sight line problems."

THIRD WARNING ** a battle that may never be won is about to be re-commenced **
Other than SCC, is there another college or university in this region that doesn't have a dedicated theater space? It's easy to whine -- but Bobo has seen athletic fields and classroom buildings sprout all over the Whitworth campus ... and even after Diana Trotter's really outstanding production of Godspell last spring -- which had a special command performance for the trustees just to raise their awareness about the potential of Whitworth's theater program ...
Well, you know how you can say almost whatever you want after you get tenure? The same goes for after you've been denied tenure. Bill Robinson (who I used to hoop and run with) and Michael LeRoy (who I've never met) ... just about every other college around here has a real theater on campus. What gives?


At October 05, 2005 10:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember back when I was a student at Whitworth in the '80's (was it really that long ago) they were going to remodel the auditorium, but did the music building and fieldhouse instead. Hey, money talks. The donations came from former football players and musicians - two much, much bigger programs. (Saucer of milk for table two.) It still sucks.

At October 07, 2005 3:40 PM , Blogger TonyC said...

If I read you correctly, Bobo, you implay SCC doesn't have a theatre space, but they do have quite a nice one with flies and lots of lighting and sound equipment. Come see Junie B. there and check it out. Bring the kids....

At October 09, 2005 6:20 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Yes, I knew I was reaching there -- SCC does have its own theater space, where Junie B. Jones is playing right now.
Which, of course, only makes my point, that Whitworth is the sole exception around here. It has a c. 1960 multipurpose auditorium that's not terribly versatile theatrically, and a wonderful black box downstairs. But if they want to accommodate audiences somewhere between 100 and 1,200 people ... not to mention a semi-thrust stage (which is what the head honchos here at StageThrust HQ prefer ...) ... what future plans does Whitworth have?

At October 16, 2005 8:25 AM , Blogger Kasey said...

As a Whitworth alumn I have to agree that the lack of a proper theatre space is a major setback in one's theatre education. Even the black box space is hardly up to date and/or practical. It would serve the theatre majors and the community well to have a fully functioning theatre space as opposed to a lecture barn.

(I don't have any ideas on how to raise the money though so I guess that makes me kind of useless in this forum)

At October 17, 2005 8:35 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

The final paragraphs of the most recent "Of Heart and Mind," President Bill Robinson's monthly newsletter to the Whitworth community, contains an apology that with both Our Town and saxophonist Kenny Garrett coming up, Whitworth doesn't have a theater and sound facilities equal to their talent.
So he's aware of the problem.


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