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Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC, presented Our Town to the Cappies Critics on April 13, 2024. Here are the top two Cappies Critic reviews

Gwendolyn Eagle

Westfield High School


Two ladders, two tables, and four chairs are set against a black background, warm lights mimicking the sun as it lazily rises into the sky. It is all we see; all we will ever really see from the small town. However, through miming and words, we see a clinic, the church on the river, and the public school over yonder. Welcome to Duke Ellington's production of Our Town, a tale of the human experience.


Written by renowned playwright Thornton Wilder, Our Town is an American classic regarded as one of the best American plays. With its first performance at the McCarter Theatre in 1938, the play gained national recognition, later going to Broadway and receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play depicts the seemingly everyday lives of the people in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, from 1901 to 1913 through the eyes of the Stage Managers. They act as narrators to breathe life into the town as its residents go through the trials of life, love, and death.


The story revolves around two high school sweethearts, Emily Webb (Ruby Garritano) and George Gibbs (Blake Robinson). Garritano played a passionate Emily, marked with wit while succumbing to teenage naivety. Robinson's George had a genuine heart. Robinson brought a quintessential teenage charm that was integral as we saw him grow up, and parts of those attributes slowly dissolved away. Together, they created a fluid story of love and loss rich with feeling and remorse.


Mrs. and Mr. Webb were played by Princess Louden and Omar Nazeer, respectively. Louden's portrayal of Mrs. Webb was heartbreakingly precise. Louden highlighted the laborious, repetitive nature of Mrs. Webb's life as she is constrained by the same routine, whether it be cooking or snapping beans. The maternal care and regret in almost every action created an impactful relationship between Louden and Garritano, which was heart-wrenching. Nazeer played a humorous and insightful Mr. Webb whose heart was in the right place. Nazeer took care to flesh out Mr. Webb with distinct movements and characterization.


Uniquely reformed, the Stage Manager became three roles as they represented the show's core themes. The "life" Stage Manager (Willow Singleton) graced the stage with delicate movements and excellent line delivery, encompassing wiseness. The "love" Stage Manager (Ruby Kodis) was enchanting with a brightness that created warmth. Kodis' cheeky smile and chirpy attitude gave a sense of hope necessary for the story's impact. Finally, there was the "death" Stage Manager (Ariel Russel). Russel's foreboding presence and confident attitude created an intriguing discomfort. Together, they shared a powerful air as they floated presently and absently throughout the story. Creating most of the sound effects in the show, they emulated everything from door creaks to farm animals' cries, delivering them with the utmost consistency. Their synched timing and commanding presence sunk audiences deeper into each act's story.


While the sparse set limited technical elements, the small details melded the experience into something memorable. Aniya Davis and MJ Thomas delicately placed distant sounds of birds chirping, light rain falling, and buzzing crickets materializing the outside environment, adding an organic feeling to the town. Off the stage, Marketing and Publicity, led by the Ellington Marketing Team, maintained a consistent presence on social media. The team balanced advertising, making it appealing while not obscuring the show's profound messages.


Duke Ellington's Our Town is a remarkable reminder of the complexities of life and time, blending the experience of being viscerally human. Life, love, and death are forever in a web connecting everyone and everything to it.

Elizabeth Kisor

Wakefield High School


“Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” The gift of life is the most precious possession one can have, but it is nearly impossible to comprehend what that truly means while still alive. Duke Ellington School of the Arts’ production of Our Town tackles the beautiful mundanities and devastations of everything life has to offer.


Our Town is a three-act play written by Thornton Wilder in 1938. Once described as the “greatest American play ever written,” Our Town presents a tale of life, love, and loss in the small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire through slice-of-life scenes of its residents. Our Town won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama during its successful Broadway run.


Utilizing precisely executed pantomime and vocalized sound effects, the cast of Our Town brought their minimalist set to bustling life. The harmonized hymns interspersed throughout the show serenely conveyed both the comforts and calamities that life has to offer. The entire cast and ensemble worked in perfect cooperation, with every scene from the hustle and bustle of an everyday morning to the eerie stillness of a graveyard delivered deliberately and with precision, making for a breathtaking performance from start to finish.


Ruby Garritano’s raw performance as Emily Webb was both joyful and devastating as the story progressed. Garritano shone with hope and anguish in the famous third act monologue as she revisited her old life before she died. As Garritano desperately tried to get the vision of her mother (Princess Louden) to see her, she captured the stage with her heartbroken lament about how naive she was and her devastation that she could never return to the life she once had. Living life beside and beyond Garritano was Blake Robinson’s George Gibbs, who grew from a charismatic and excitable young boy to a man saddled with grief over Garritano’s and his mother’s (Cairo Waters) death.


Narrating the story as it progressed were the cynical and grounded Stage Managers, a unified force split in three by Ruby Kodis, Ariel Russel, and Willow Singleton. Commanding the stage with their wit and critical commentary, Kodis, Russel, and Singleton anchored the story, foreshadowing the devastating loss that would come at the end. Louden and Waters maintained a poised and motherly demeanor as they raised their children, sent them off to marriage, and finally reconciled the presence of death. Louden’s return in Garritano’s post-mortem flashback remained eerily disengaged, maintaining tranquility as Garritano desperately tried to get Louden to see her. Throughout Garritano’s distress, Waters acted as a stony comfort, offering advice while simultaneously resigning herself to her fate in death.


The sound design, created by Aniya Davis and MJ Thomas, seamlessly enhanced each setting. Effects such as the pattering of rain and the gentle chirping of crickets created an auditory environment that ensured clarity of location in every scene. The well-placed hanging microphones allowed sound to carry evenly throughout the auditorium regardless of where each character was on stage. Working with their minimalist set, the Ellington Stage Crew ensured that the impeccable transitions were as much of a whirlwind as life is.


Duke Ellington’s heartfelt and poignant performance opened a curtain on the “vicious cycle” of life and death and reckoned face to face with the fact that one cannot realize how precious life is until they have lost it.


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