A Review of CCM Acting’s Our Town
by Alan Jozwiak
“Just as the global pandemic has caused us to treasure what we once regarded as trivial, so does the cosmic backdrop of Wilder’s “Our Town” contextualize the meaning of the trivial in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire.”
These words from director Brant Russell’s program notes summarize the recent production of University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music Acting Program’s take on this 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning work. I have seen this Thornton Wilder staple of the stage several times before, so I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary.
However, seeing “Our Town” in the midst of a pandemic which has killed over 700,000 Americans, the constant references to death and the longing for simpler times in the play have an added resonance.
All cast members are masked throughout the show. While this could be a problem for comprehending the actors, every member of the cast can be clearly heard and understood.
“Our Town” tells the story of two families, the Webbs and the Gibbs, who live next door to each other in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Over the span of 12 years, Wilder shows us how the everyday and trivial in this town has resonances in eternity.
While this may sound ponderous, the play is steeped in everyday life. We get to see those everyday experiences through the eyes of Emily Webb (Julianna Weis-Palacios) and George Gibbs (Eli Lucas) as they go through courtship and marriage.
Both Weis-Palacios and Lucas are strong within their roles. Weis-Palacios plays the part of the smart and naive Emily convincingly. There is a point in the play where Emily confronts George about being conceited because of his baseball playing. Emily innocently blurts out that George should be more perfect, like her father and his father to great effect. Her delivery of that line works because Weis-Palacios so deeply connects to Emily’s innocence that she cannot imagine anyone in charge could not be perfect.
Eli Lucas as George Gibbs also performs well. Some of his best moments come as he is talking with Emily. Lucas works well off Weis-Palacois when they are in scenes together and their interactions become a delightful part of the show. Their version of a balcony scene (played with facing ladders) is touching and their “date” at the ice-cream parlor is both well-acted and just fun to watch.
The conductor moving the audience through this play is the Stage Manager (Neuma Joy). Joy faces a difficult challenge with the role of Stage Manager because the Stage Manager does everything from stating the population of Grover’s Corners to playing several characters (including the ice-cream soda jerk and clergyman officiating at the wedding of Emily and George). She deftly rises to the challenge and makes the play function like a well-oiled machine.
“Our Town” has a large cast (20 actors on stage and a 10-member chorus offstage). Praise must be given to director Brant Russell for making what could be a logistical nightmare into a seamless production where this mighty cast moves smoothly in and out scenes. He also gives ensemble cast members little moments to shine.
Russell uses a chorus of 10 CCM singers for choir practice, the wedding, and the funeral. What results are exceptionally strong choral interludes.
In closing, it was good to see CCM Acting back on stage after a twenty-month hiatus.
This production is a good evening of theatre and bodes well for other productions this season. While this event only lasted during the first weekend in October, check the CCM website for other offerings from CCM Acting (and CCM in general) at: https://ccm.uc.edu/onstage.html.
Alan Jozwiak is a local playwright who teaches in the English department at University of Cincinnati.