‘The ordinary people of the ordinary town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire’ are alive and well (again) and in good hands on the stage of the Kirby Theatre, home of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison. One of the true theater treasures in the state, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, renown for the quality of its productions, has mounted an impressive retelling of the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner, Thorton Wilder's homage to small-town American life, Our Town. The now great American classic may be set in a small New England town at the turn of the last century, but it has an important New Jersey connection. Our Town was originally produced at The McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey and premiered on Broadway in 1938 to great acclaim.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's production directed by Joseph Discher coincides with the 75th anniversary of the McCarter premiere. The play tells the story of the life of the people of the fictional town of Grover’s Corners between the years of 1901 and 1913. It is presented, as it was in 1938, minus any scenery with a few tables and chairs to suggest the homes of two neighboring families, the Gibbs and the Webbs. The Gibbs family consists of Doc Gibbs (Malachy Cleary), Mrs. Gibbs (Marion Adler) daughter Rebecca (Rebecca Gray Davis) and son George (Jordan Coughtry). Next door neighbors, the Webbs, include Mr. Webb (James Michael Reilly-21st year with the STNJ), Mrs. Webb (Allison Daugherty), son Wally (Isaac Allen Miller) and daughter Emily (Nisi Sturgis). The central plot is the story of George and Emily told in three acts: Courtship (Act One-Daily Life), Marriage (Act Two-Love and Marriage) and Beyond (Act Three-Death and Eternity). Beyond the sparse set, the actors, minus props, mime most actions from eating, opening doors to even pulling a milk wagon horse.
The play may be best known for the unique use in 1938 of a stage manager (Philip Goodwin) speaking directly to the theater audience narrating the events of Grover's Corners. Goodwin, with a perfect, polite New England manner, is excellent in this star turn, particularly in his long monologue at the opening of Act Three. The other star turn is by a STNJ favorite, Nisi Sturgis as Emily. Sturgis is wonderful, somehow easily assuming the age of a teenager. Her big moment comes in the Act Three scene where she re-lives her 12th birthday. Also, most notable is Jordan Coughtry as Emily's great love George. As in Trelawny of the Wells, he is a spot-on handsome leading man of considerable talent. Director Joseph Discher shows remarkable casting skill in the pairing of Sturgis and Coughtry** as lovers. Together they both delight in Act Two with the display of nervousness prior of the wedding ceremony (photo above).
The other fine cast members include: Mark H. Dold Simon Stimson; Jeff Gonzalez Joe Crowell; Jake Berger Howie Newsome; , Glenn Beatty Professor Willard; Eileen Glenn Mrs. Soames; Terence Gleeson Constable Warren; Joseph Hamel Joe Stoddard; Justin Waldo Sam Craig; Jean Walker A Woman Among the Dead; and Edward McEneaney Mr. Carter.
The creative staff includes: set designer Charlie Calvert; costume designer Candida Nichols; lighting designer Matthew Adelson; Diego Daniel Pardo dialect coach and Dee Dee Katchen production stage manager.
Our Town is a warm, touching tale of another, more innocent time, beautifully presented with top-line performances supported by masters of stagecraft. The plot is deceptively simple....Boy meets girl....Boys gets Girl.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 22, 2013
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's presentation of Our Town began October 17th and continues through November 17th at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Ave. (at Lancaster Road) in Madison on the Drew University campus, just minutes from routes 287, 78 and 10. Parking is free.
Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or by visiting www.ShakespeareNJ.org. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Individual tickets range from $35 to $70; student rush tickets are available 30 minutes prior to curtain for $15.
*Our Town cemented Wilder’s reputation as a great American author. Educated at Oberlin, Yale, and Princeton, Wilder rose to literary prominence with his 1927 novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Wilder became a prolific author of novels, short stories, and plays. The 1942 play The Skin Of Our Teeth, starring Tallulah Bankhead, earned Wilder his third Pulitzer, making him the only American author to win Pulitzer Prizes for both drama and fiction. His varied literary career included a foray into cinema. He wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s classic Shadow of a Doubt in 1943. Later in life, Wilder revised his early play The Merchant Of Yonkers with a new title The Matchmaker which, in turn, inspired the 1964 hit Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing.
** Jordan and Nisi were married in September.
Photo: ©Gerry Goodstein, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey