Girl Friday Productions' Our Town is as unadorned and lovely as its characters. Director Craig Johnson follows the blueprint for Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece to a T, using a minimal set, sound effects instead of musical instruments and animals, and direct audience address—and for the most part does well by it.
Our Town is the story of the people who live in Grover’s Corners, a small town in New Hampshire, at the turn of the century. Over the course of three acts and the passing of twelve years, the characters present for the audience ostensibly quotidian moments in their lives. The play focuses on two neighboring families, the Gibbs and the Webbs. These families' respective children, George and Emily, go from friends to class leaders and, finally, to husband and wife.
Jenny Hollingsworth Kathman does a more-than-serviceable job as Emily Webb, nailing her sweet intelligence and optimism in the first two acts. Ian Miller as George Gibbs is a delight to watch. His sense of playfulness and yearning are endearing. Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs, portrayed by Bob Malos and Kirby Bennett, make a fine pair. Bennett brings an understated dignity to her role as George’s mother. Her counterpart, Mrs. Webb, is played by Heather Stone, who hasn’t quite figured out how to balance humor with drama and chews the pantomimed scenery from time to time. Johnson’s choice to divide the lines of the Stage Manager (as written, the narrator of the play) among the ensemble defuses and detracts from the storylines, and is just plain confusing. (Photo, above, back: John Middleton as Editor Webb, Jenny Hollingworth Kathman as Emily Webb. Front: Heather Stone as Mrs. Webb, Collan Simmons as Wally Webb. Photo, Richard Fleischman.)
The disquieting third act deals with Emily’s death and the universe at large—a daunting topic if ever there was one—and this is where Kathman, who has one of the most famous speeches in the play, struggles the most. Emily’s life-after-death experience is supposed to be a time of revelation—“Do human beings ever live life while they live it?” she asks—but Kathman doesn’t grasp the full meaning of the text. This doesn’t take too much power away from Our Town as a great work of art, but it does prevent this production from reaching its full potential.
In the play, there’s a character who addresses an envelope: “Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, North America, the Western Hemisphere, Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the mind of God.” The postman delivers it, anyway. Girl Friday’s moving production, despite its missteps, delivers too. Go.
Our Town runs through July 28 at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage.