McLean High School
It's an unremarkable town with unremarkable people that have relatively unremarkable lives, yet from within this mediocrity emerges a certainly remarkable story of the universal experiences of life and death. Displaying subtlety and charm, Dominion High School accomplished no easy task in producing the iconic narrative "Our Town."
Regarded as an American classic, Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" was highly unconventional when published in 1938. Wilder's play stripped away the embellishments of contemporary theatre and focused on human elements. Its minimalistic approach to the timeless themes of life, love, and death still retained warmth, crucial to storytelling. "Our Town" was first performed in New Jersey, then Massachusetts before moving to New York City. Wilder received the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and since then, there have been countless adaptations and revivals, including television versions, musical adaptations, and a revival that won the 1989 Tony Award for Best Revival.
Set in the early 20th century, the three-act narrative follows Emily Webb and George Gibbs as they grow up together, fall in love with each other, and are separated after Emily's tragic death. The play focuses on the larger community of Grover's Corners, as well as George and Emily. Maintaining individuality while establishing a common identity, Dominion High School's cast effectively showcased the ordinary in a touching manner.
Josh Thomas as George Gibbs and Eleanor Walter as Emily Webb both capably handled their roles as the twosome journeyed through daily life, marriage, and death together. Thomas's consistently high energy complemented Walter's more subdued, sensitive performance throughout Acts One and Two. After Emily's death, Thomas completed his character's development from teenage baseball addict to heartbroken widower with changed vocal intonation and physicality. In Emily's final moments of the third act, Walter's performance possessed emotional intensity. Especially when combined with the scene of a grim graveyard full of once lively people, draped in black, and a mourning George sobbing on his knees, the performance was tear jerking.
By far, the most unique character of "Our Town" is the Stage Manager, portrayed in Dominion's production by Saskia Hunter. Whether interacting with the townspeople, directing information to the audience, or reacting with the audience, Hunter maintained an aura of authenticity, both omniscient and omnipresent. As she meandered across town, pointing to buildings that were invisible to the audience, her deliberate sentimentality set the tone for the rest of the cast.
The whole cast balanced the emotional and lighthearted elements of the story, while still preserving the small-town aura of Grover's Corners. Townspeople such as Mrs. Webb (Leecy Silk) and the milkman Howie Newsome (Lars Nyman) elicited chuckles from the audience with their vocal abilities and distinct character choices. Keeping with the simplicity of the writing, many actors pantomimed everyday actions in the absence of props: stringing beans, drinking an ice cream soda, carrying a coffin.
To complement the simplicity of the almost bare stage and almost no props, the lights and sound greatly contributed to the atmosphere of the show. Varying warmths of light and shifts of focus helped prevent confusion and added drama to profound moments. Microphones also aided the performance of many actors, and sound effects such as a cow bell and clinking glasses when the milkman made his rounds added another layer of authenticity to the show.
Moment to moment, people fail to realize the wonder of the unremarkable and everyday. But every day remarkable things occur in the universe: birth, love, death. Dominion High School's production of "Our Town" inspired a sense of awe in every audience member at the unremarkably remarkable nature of the human experience.
Lake Braddock Secondary School
"There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that the point?" This closing line from "The Office" echoes the theme of appreciating the simple things in life for what they are, a theme that has been prevalent in many forms of modern American media, and can be traced back to Thornton Wilder's 1938 play, "Our Town," which details life and death in a small New England town at the turn of the 20th century.
In the late 1930's, Thornton Wilder was dissatisfied with the state of Broadway, so he decided to write a play in a metatheatrical style in order to get back to the root of what he deemed important about the stage. The play is narrated by an omnipresent character known as the Stage Manager, who leads us through the story-within-the-story about the young lovers George Gibbs and Emily Webb as they grow up in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. A 1946 production in East Berlin was cancelled by the Russian government, who deemed the ending too depressing, afraid it would lead to a wave of suicides in Germany. On the contrary, Wilder's intent was to encourage the audience to live their lives to the fullest. Based on the play's Pulitzer Prize, it seems like some people got the message.
Integral to the tone for Dominion's production is Saskia Hunter's performance as the Stage Manager. Hunter delivers five-minute monologues with a calm, educating tone that makes them seem like they were a breeze to memorize. Even when she is quietly observing the action from the side of the stage, she gives off the vibe of someone watching over and caring for the town, not a high schooler anxiously waiting for her next line. Another make-or-break factor for the play is the relationship between George and Emily, played here by Josh Thomas and Eleanor Walter. The pair have a good dynamic, always elevating the energy of the scenes they share, and Thomas especially does a great job of showing the character's progression from a teen to a young adult to a man made older by experience. Their relationship feels plausible since we see the progression from their nervous energy in Act 1 to the pure bliss of Act 2.
As was Wilder's intent with his metatheatrical style, the play utilizes minimal scenery and props in order to draw focus to the acting. As a result, the atmosphere is largely created by sound effects and some pantomiming from the actors. The vast majority of the actors did a consistent job with their pantomiming, and the sound designers demonstrated appreciable specificity with their effects. The subtle undertone of crickets throughout some night scenes is not always heard when actors are talking, but that only makes them all the more palpable when there are gaps in dialogue. Sound effects were also helpful in creating distance so that the limited stage space felt like the sprawl of a town. For example, the sound of the milkman's clinking gradually faded the farther away he was from the Gibbs and Webb households.
In the third act, Emily ponders, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?" The Stage Manager responds that, other than perhaps the saints and poets, we do not. And while this may be true, we can all get a few steps closer to appreciating life by taking a trip through Grover's Corners with the cast of crew of Dominion High School's "Our Town."