A touching production of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 “Our Town” at Foothill College reveals why the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is an American classic.
Even though aspects of life in early 20th century Grover’s Corners are drastically different from today (a milk man with a cart makes rounds to homes; a train whistle marks the dawn), the show’s message about the sanctity of everyday pleasures and pains is timeless.
In program notes, director Bruce McLeod, a professor in the theater department at Foothill, describes “Our Town” as the play “many of us read in English class around the eighth grade” that, while still produced often (due to its large cast and modest production values, including a set simply with chairs) remains elusive.
An acclaimed, modernized, long-running New York production in 2009 directed by David Cromer led him back to it, and, assisted by Lexi Velasquez, he stages it with the straightforward sensitivity Wilder clearly desired.
Carla Befera (Bay Area theater publicist extraordinaire and McLeod’s wife) delivers a no-nonsense performance as the Stage Manager, the show’s anchor, a narrator of sorts who explains the comings and goings of the town’s folks (there are 2,642) in an appealing “just the facts ma’am” manner.
Attired in a present-day sweatshirt, pants and baseball cap, she’s not the only character who breaks the fourth wall in this production; the church choir performs from seats in the audience, and during brief intermissions in the two-hour show, cast members greet patrons.
The action, focusing on coming-of-age teens, the well-spoken Emily Webb (Samantha Rose) and farmer-to-be George Gibbs (Peter Spoelstra) and their families, takes place in three acts, beginning with daily life in 1901, love and marriage in 1904, and, as Wilder writes, “I guess you can reckon what that one’s about” in 1913.
The actors are as competent and plain-spoken as their characters, particularly Anthony Silk as busy Dr. Gibbs, Dee Baily as his wife (who dares to dream of visiting Paris), Bill Dwan as Mr. Webb, publisher of the newspaper and Edie Dwan as Mrs. Webb, who answers her daughter’s query, “You’re pretty enough for all normal purposes.”
Of course, what’s normal becomes phenomenal as time and mortality are added to the mix. Act 3 evokes requisite tears as young marrieds Emily and George are parted. An updated treatment of a breakfast scene set on Emily’s birthday (apparently inspired by the 2009 production) adds another element that touches the senses: the irresistible smell of bacon.
In the 21st century, “Our Town” is well worth a visit.
Presented by Foothill Theatre Arts
Where: Lohman Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 20
Tickets: $10 to $20
Contact: (650) 949-7360, www.foothill.edu/theatre/current