“Our Town” Comes to Monmouth

The Department of Music and Theatre Arts at Monmouth recently presented their production of the play Our Town at the Lauren K. Woods Theatre from Nov. 5-9 and 12-15.

The three act play of Our Town was originally written by American playwright Thornton Wilder in 1938. It was first performed as a play at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ, on Jan. 22, 1938, and started its run on Broadway on Feb. 4 of the same year. It enjoyed an incredibly successful run, and Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama that year for the play. For the past 75 years, it has consistently been one of the most produced plays in the world.

“If you pick six of the greatest American plays, this is one of them,” says director of Our Town, Dr. John J. Burke. “There is a performance of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town somewhere in the world every day. This alone testifies to the fact that it is one of the best American plays ever written.”

The story does not follow a typical plot. Instead, the character of the stage manager, played by junior Stephen Lang, takes on the main role in Our Town, guiding the audience through years and events that happen in the small town of Grover’s Corners, NH. With audience interaction, flashbacks, flash-forwards, little scenery and more, the production is an incomparable, unique theater experience. Despite being written in 1938, Our Town continues to have universal appeal, even today. Much of this has to do with its familiar message and being incredibly relatable to anyone who has ever experienced small town America.

“When the play premiered in 1938,” continues Burke, “Wilder’s use of little scenery, a stage manager who travels through time to tell the story, and the focus on the seemingly unimportant events of everyday life gave the audience a sense that this could be ‘my town,’ anywhere in America.”

“Everyone resonates with small town America,” voiced freshman Molly Hubert, who played the character of Mrs. Soames. “It’s universal.”

The loose story does follow two families in the town: the Gibb family and the Webb family, and the story of the eventual relationship between two of their children, George Gibb, double casted and played by juniors T.J. Bent and Michael Qualiano, and Emily Webb, also double casted and played by seniors Zoe Bullitt and Kelly Thomas. It is the ideas of the play that are of true importance in the production. To always appreciate life and making sure not to let it pass by without a thought is the lesson Our Town wants the audience to take away from it.

“I’ve never done a show as groundbreaking or meaningful as this,” explained junior Patrick Hall, who played Simon Stimson, during a talk-back after the Nov. 9 production. “This play is really timeless.”

For Monmouth’s showing of Our Town, there are certain new creative elements that Burke and the crew took. Double casting for certain characters played a major role in the production of the show.

“Each cast is so different in their interpretation of the words of Thornton Wilder,” continues Hubert, “For someone who is a theatre addict like me, it is so interesting to see the different interpretations of the same scene.”

The show was also slightly updated for the 20th century, and was formed into two acts instead of three. This was done to keep the message of Our Town at the forefront, and to keep the production from becoming too sentimental.

“Certainly, the joys of life are present, but sudden, untimely death, alcoholism, and the loss of love and dreams are also in the play,” details Burke. “It is through all of these events that Wilder examines the universal experience of being alive.”

“The message behind the show is so beautiful, but it can get lost in the hullabaloo of the old fashioned costumes and lengthy acts,” explains Hubert. “We are trying to put the show into a modern setting to make the message of the show more clear and lasting.”

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