Saturday, October 04, 2008

"Our Town" in the rain

Productions of Thornton Wilder's bare-stage/universalizing classic all look pretty much the same. The three-story facade of the Elizabethan Theater worked against the bare-planks setting.
Bobo had planned well by ordering a ticket under the overhang, in case of rain. It rained, lightly, through most of Acts 1 and 2; but it stopped when it would have worked best, for the the Act 3 graveyard scene. (Photo is of the gray-clad dead in their graves, with Anthony Heald [the vice-principal in *Boston Public,* and much, much else] in the background; Heald was the best Iago I've ever seen onstage a few years ago in the Bowmer; now sharing the stage with this year's Iago, Dan Donohue, who played the drunken/suicidal church-choir director, Simon Stimson [and who, of course, attended LCHS and Whitman]; Bobo forgot to mention the U of Idaho connections of this year's Desdemona, Sarah Rutan, who played many roles at Idaho Rep before coming here and also doing an effective, femme fatale '30s take on Valeria, the 3rd woman in *Coriolanus.*)
So it comes down to the acting. *Our Town* under the stars, except you couldn't see the stars. Can't beat the play for arousing emotions of live-your-life-now-and-live-it-intensely. But the crucial role of Emily Gibbs was poorly played.
Heald, as the Stage Manager, was folksy and got laughs. A nice experiment to do it outdoors, but not particularly impressive.
Color-blind casting: New Hampshire in 1903-11 with black folks who have a white son and an interracial marriage that produces a daughter (Mahira Kakkar as Emily Gibbs) who's East Indian (or perhaps Pakistani, judging from her accent)? The mind rebels, dwells -- but then of course the point (better suited to Wilder's expansive vision that to, say, one of Shakespeare's history plays, which is rooted quite firmly in, say, the battle of Agincourt in 1415 or whatever) is that, as the Stage Manager is always reminding us, we live in the context of the infinite. All the people who ever were (in whatever century, on whatever continent) have had/will have the same hopes and dreams, the same worries and fears for their children. It's a classic for a reason, man: Wilder gets us out of the humdrum and into what matters about our lives. My point being: color-blind casting works here precisely because it gets us thinking about the gap between what's normal/usual/historical and what can be/should be: Seeing that Asian woman over there, not as primarily Asian or even primarily a woman, but as a fallible, variegated, multi-talented, self-defeating, wondrous creature.
Just like the rest of us, just like that janitor over there.
She IS Asian and female, sure, that's part of her makeup. But only parts, substantial parts, of her story.
All the dead were dressed in gray. They knew, better than those us who are alive, that most living people are blind to the little miracles that are all around us.
Yew illustrated some lines (we saw the Polish mother with her twins -- though, oddly, up in one of those Elizabethan casement windows) and we saw the paper boy, grown into a doughboy, charging into a World War I foxhole and into his death. But it's a plain, folksy play, and if not a complete success here, still worth doing and attending to.

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