Saturday, Oct. 19, after a 20-year absence, Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Our Town,” returned to The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey for its opening in Madison. Director Joseph Discher led a committed cast, dressed in early 20th-century attire by costume designer Candida Nichols. Actor Jordan Coughtry, who played the romantic lead as George Gibbs, spoke after the performance with Examiner.com about the challenges and joys of the role and Wilder’s watershed work.
The drama poignantly deals with the goings-on of everyday life, love and marriage, and death, events that have occurred millions of times throughout human history. Those events during the play befall the Gibbs and Webb families, who are neighbours, and they occur between 1899 and 1913. Act II focusses on the wedding of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, played by Jordan Coughtry and Nisi Sturgis, respectively, and portrays in flashback the day their romance bloomed over ice cream sodas.
Jordan Coughtry told Examiner.com that the greatest challenge to the role of George Gibbs is the fact that the actors are totally exposed in a play that’s “completely naked,” spoken metaphorically. “That scene over the ice cream sodas, where it’s just Emily and George onstage, felt safe in rehearsals, with the whole cast surrounding the practice area, protecting us like a fence. But before the audience that scene becomes the most difficult for me.”
The actor said the performance was surreal “on so many levels,” partly because his parents from Schoharie, New York, a suburb of Albany, were in the audience. “Plus, early into rehearsals Nina Sturgis and I flew to Arkansas where she’s from and got married there for real.”
Not only does the couple relive their wedding multiple times during the run, but “we see our life flash before us” when the Stage Manager, flawlessly played by Philip Goodwin, recites the list of life events, “the rheumatism, the second rheumatism, the grandchildren, the deathbed, the reading of the will—all the time while we are looking at each other. I had no idea that appearing in this play with my wife would be so special.”
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Newark Performing Arts column
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