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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Hamilton County Theatre Guild opens its 2018-19 season with Thornton Wilder’s 1938 masterpiece, Our Town, directed by Nancy Lafferty. This classic play is among the most produced in school and community theatres and yet it has been a good while since any group has presented it locally, at least to my recollection.

Wilder fashioned Our Town in part as a response to his dissatisfaction about where theatre had evolved to in the 1930’s.  In his words:  “I felt that something had gone wrong….I began to feel that the theatre was not only inadequate, it was evasive.” Thus, he offered his work in what is called a metatheatrical style, whereby the play is presented by a self-aware stage manager, who speaks directly to the audience about the staging and ideas of the story. It works very well and Ms. Lafferty has remained faithful to Wilder’s ideals of a bare stage, scant set pieces and props, and the feeling that a group of people is presenting the story as a show.

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Most of the cast of “Our Town” onstage for a scene from The Belfry’s production of the play.

The play tells of the citizens in a fictional American town, Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, in the early part of the twentieth century. The tale centers around the lives of two young people, George Gibbs and Emily Webb. In three acts, entitled “Daily Life’, “Love and Marriage”, and “Death and Eternity”, we follow the couple and their surrounding kin and townsfolk for a period of some 14 years. It is a thoughtful slice of Americana as well as an emotional examination of love, loss and life in general.

Ms. Lafferty has crafted a thoroughly lovely production of this enduring play, employing a cast of 20 players who fill the stage with spot-on performances. Susan Hill is engaging as the omniscient stage manager, leading us on the journey through time and events. Never overly mundane nor overly jocular, Ms. Hill handles the role with a true sense of the straightforward authority that Wilder had written into the piece.

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from left: Mrs. Webb (Jan Borcherding) and her daughter Emily (Lexi Odle) discuss matters in a scene from “Our Town” at The Belfry Theatre.

Lexi Odle and Matt Hartzburg are perfect together as the central couple – Emily and George. Both work flawlessly at showing the progressive stages of their lives, love and commitment. Ms. Odle has the correct countenance for her role and presents an understanding of every step of her character’s stream of life – an admirable job of acting for this young performer. Hartzburg continues to impress us onstage. He offers a multi-faceted George and responds to Ms. Odle’s efforts exceedingly well. The couple’s scene together in the soda shop is a terrific treasure of youthful nuance that is not to be missed.

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from left: Rebecca Gibbs (Ella Walsworth), George Gibbs (Matt Hartzburg) and Mrs. Gibbs (Cathie Morgan) in a scene from “Our Town” at The Belfry Theatre

The couple’s parents -well played by Kelly Keller and Cathie Morgan as Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs, and Jeff Maess and Jan Borcherding as Mr. and Mrs. Webb – provide a convincing look at universal parental struggles and emotions. Ms. Morgan and Ms. Borcherdinding are particularly taken up by these emotions as the mothers, and do especially fine work in that arena. The fathers are more than apt in their wise and sometimes comic conveyances to their children. All four provide some very artful scene-work.

The remaining townspeople are played quite skillfully by a wide variety of actors and actresses. Standouts include Ian A. Montgomery as steady milkman Howie Newsome, Tom Smith as church organist (and town drunk) Simon Stimson, Diane Wilson as chatty, opinionated Mrs. Soames, Daniel McCarthy as funeral visitor Sam Craig, and Ella Walsworth as pesky little sister Rebecca Gibbs. All the supporting cast members glide through their various assignments, well-directed by Ms. Lafferty’s vision of the town, offering true accounts of Mr. Wilder’s words.

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Susan Hill takes the role of the Stage Manager in “Our Town” at The Belfry Theatre

The set, as I said, is minimal and compelling in grey. The costumes by Ms. Lafferty and Ms. Morgan are just right – aimed to extend a colorless view of these olden times. Lighting designed by Eric Matters and operated by Aidan Lucas is an effective piece of the storytelling. The production unwinds in a very efficient manner and I know much of this is due to well-drilled actors, technicians, and backstage assistants, and for this – Ms. Lafferty and her crew deserve further acknowledgement.

Bottomline: The Belfry Theatre’s Our Town is a superior community theatre production. It’s main goal – presenting a true version of Wilder’s extraordinary old play, layered with its humor, its meaningful visions of humanity and an inspiring philosophy of living – is well met and exceedingly so.

Our Town continues at The Belfry for two more weekends – through Sept. 30th. You can find out more about the show and reservations by linking here or by calling the box office at 317.773.1085.

  • – photos by Betsy Reason

 

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