Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our Town

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Our Town, currently playing at the Barrow Street Theater and starring Michael McKean as the Stage Manager, is a marvel of a play. Having somehow escaped high school without reading it or seeing it performed, I found this performance nothing short of fascinating.

The staging at the Barrow Street Theater is at once unique: along with a sparse stage set with only two kitchen tables and four chairs between them, the first row of seats on the left and right side of the stage are actually on the stage, in the middle of all the action. Actors and actresses not only use the chairs and people in them as props, but during certain intermediary segments of the show, audience members are discreetly slipped index cards and prompted to take part in a "Q&A" with the editor of the Grover's Corners newspaper.

The story is slow and steady, with a Stage Manager who maintains a certain sense of defensive placidity as he describes the people, places, and daily activities in this small New Hampshire town. The normality of the play captures the audience's attention so easily that it's not until the very end of the first act -- or even the beginning of the second -- that the viewer can really tell what the arc of the story is. This quaint, idealistic storyline is shattered in the third act, in a series of events that caused more than one audience member to gasp quietly. The final scene is heartwrenching; James McMenamin's portrayal of George Webb simmers so subtly throughout the first two acts that his final, agonizingly emotional scenes are breathtaking.

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