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January 18, 2005 > Right Here in Our Town

Right Here in Our Town

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

The community-based Broadway West Theatre Company is known for its successful productions and their latest, Our Town, looks to be headed in the same direction.

Our Town, the classic American play by Thornton Wilder, has been a popular production among high school and professional theatre companies alike. The play, with its sentiments of life, interpreted play has seen many opens as the Stage Manager (played by Troy Johnson) kindly regales the audience with a history of Grovers Corner- the setting for this early 20th century play. Johnson plays the Stage Manager to a T, expressing the good ol' Northeastern charm of New Hampshire and the intimacy of a small town. While his Maine-inflected accent falters at points, Johnson makes up for it with an energetic performance.

The stage is nearly bare except for two identical table and chair sets on either side representing the two households that the play revolves around-the Gibbs and the Webb families. Instantly noticeable are two light wooden trellises for, as the Stage Manager notes, "those who must have some sort of scenery." The trellises also act as entryways in to lives of the families

Like most productions of Our Town, the stage takes second seat to the performance, encouraging the audience to visualize Grovers Corners for themselves, to invoke their own vision of Everytown, U.S.A.

The cast of Our Town is what is meant to take center stage. Directors Kate Christ and Mary Galde utilize every portion of the theatre creating an intimate atmosphere wherein the audience members become eavesdropping citizens of Grovers Corners. Putting the cast in close proximity to the audience further emphasizes the small town feel.

The cast itself is a delightful mix comprised of Broadway West regulars. Martha Luehrman and Pat Cross (Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, respectively) create lovingly, down-home mothers willing to do anything for their families. Their characters are complimented by the bold performances of David Ammon as Dr. Gibbs and Nick Maggio as Mr. Webb as their husbands. The Gibbs children, George (Jack Starr) and Rebecca (Sarah Thomsen) are exuberant and lively. The same goes for the Webb children with Jake Sigl as the precocious Wally Webb and Casi Maggio playing Emily Webb.

What completes the setting of Broadway West's Our Town are the sound and lighting. These two elements not only add the to mood of the theatre they create the intimate feeling that the company appears to be going for. Soft purple and orange lighting are used to represent night and day. Sound effects abound from all corners of the tiny theatre; a horse clopping on the left of the theatre, a chicken cackling down front and cast members calling out from behind the audience in a town-hall meeting scene. The lighting and sound crews succeeded in placing the audience at the center of the production, within Grovers Corners lines. At one point in Act II, it was hard to distinguish whether the whistle of an actual train a few blocks from the theatre was a sound effect or not.

Act II revolves around the wedding of the bashful George Gibbs (played by Jack Starr) and the lovely Emily Webb (Casi Maggio). The wedding scene is a shining point for the cast who successfully express the complex bitter sweetness of a wedding. Nick Maggio (Casi's real-life father) does a fantastic job of portraying a loving Father-of-the-Bride. In one hilarious scene, George Gibbs visits the Webb household in hopes of seeing his bride-to-be. Mother Webb exits to Emily's room, and the Bridegroom and his Father-in-Law to- be are left (uncomfortably) face-to face. The two actors comically play the uneasy relationship between Father and Son-In-Law

Although the tone of the play grows somber in Act III, the energy of the performances spring forward. Act III opens with 10 chairs stage left, random characters sitting in the seats. Among these rigidly seated characters are Mother Gibbs, young Wally Webb (Jake Sigl) and Simon Stimson. Their faces remain motionless as the Stage Manger introduces the audience to Grovers Corners' hilltop cemetery. The audience then realizes that those on the left-hand of the stage are the dead and that there is a chair waiting to be filled.

A procession of black umbrellas makes it way to the stage, enveloping a group of mourners. The cast begins to sing a soft hymn and Emily Webb, dressed in her white wedding gown, steps out from beneath the black canopy. Maggio plays Emily's mixed emotions in a realistic way never too funny or too sad. As she shines on stage, the actors playing the dead deliver their lines with stone, emotionless faces, a rather difficult feat. Even the youngest cast member on stage, (Jake Sigl as Wally Webb) does not move a muscle, facial or otherwise, during the entire lengthy scene.

In short, Broadway West's production of Our Town succeeds in expressing the tale of birth, death and the life in between.

Our Town
Broadway West Theatre Company
Feb. 12, Thursday - Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee 1 p.m.
4000 B Bay Street, Fremont
(510) 683-9218

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