Location: Barrow Street Theatre,
Website: Official Our Town site
Starring: Jason Butler Harner, James McMenamin, Jennifer Grace, Lori Myers, Armand Schultz, Kati Brazda, Ken Marks
My Review: I may be one of the few Americans out there who never had to read or attend a production of Our Town while in school. But I didn’t wander into the production at the Barrow Street Theatre completely blind; I knew the basic premise was a play about small-town
It’s not easy to summarize the plot of Our Town, since it’s about nearly everything that life is about: Childhood, love, marriage, fear, daily life, growing old, death, etc. The premise is deceptively simple: Three distinct acts follow life in the quiet, simple town of
Neither the play itself nor this particular production are perfect, but perfection isn’t necessary when it still manages to pack an emotional punch that has you leaving the theater feeling a bizarre mixture of sadness, hopefulness, and determination to make the little things in life count. The
All of the performances are handled well, and while none are really stand-outs (this isn’t a stand-out sort of show), some are superior to others. Jason Butler Harner as the Stage Manager is probably the best performance in the play (good thing, too, since he has the most stage time). He acts as a narrator for the audience, then changes tactics to interact with the other characters, even taking on the role of a minor character in the few scenes that require one. He smoothly dances in and out of the play throughout all three acts and manages to make the audience truly see and feel what the characters are going through. Lori Myer as Mrs. Gibbs also stood out for me, as a woman who loves her family and the role she plays in taking care of them, but still longs for some time away with a husband who has no interest in even discussing the possibility. I was a bit ambivalent to Jennifer Grace as Emily Webb in the first act, but she sold me in Act II as she played the heart-breaking role of a bride petrified of growing up, being disappointed, and learning how to cope with everything to come (I can’t even get into what she puts you through in Act III without giving away the entire heart and soul of the production). The only minor detractor in the cast was James McMenamin as George Gibbs, and my only real complaint is that his surfer-dude-esque accent was distracting. I thought it was something he was affecting in Act I to sound like the teenager his character was, but in subsequent acts I saw that it’s just how he talks. It’s a minor flaw in an otherwise great ensemble, but I couldn’t shake the image of “Keanu Reeves does Our Town.”
Bottom Line: If you’ve never seen a production of Our Town and wonder why so many schools make it required reading (or if you’ve only seen bad productions of it and are jaded to the entire show), the Barrow Street Theatre production is a must-see. Its study in simple living can relate to even the most cosmopolitan of New Yorkers, because at the end of it all, it’s the simple things in life that everyone remembers and clings to—and they have a habit of sneaking up on you while you’re overly occupied painting the big picture, so it’s helpful to have the occasional reminder to take pause for those moments.