Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Review: Trinity Rep - Our Town

Dolores and I joined her sister and husband in Providence Saturday night to catch Our Town at Trinity Rep. Trinity Rep is an excellent theater company, nationally known and in our own backyard. We have been to many performances over the years and have never been disappointed. This performance of the American classic play Our Town is no exception.

In an interview the director, Brian McEleney, reveals how Trinity decided to present Our Town with it's own twist and yet keep true to the play. Brian says:
... the play is pretty perfect the way it is. The content is self-evident: Wilder essentially shows us the least interesting people he can find, and makes us see them as fascinating. They’re just like us. We all have daily lives, birth and death, love and marriage. He redefines history as a story of millennia of people living lives, as opposed to a story of wars and politics and elections.

The real challenge is style. In 1938 it was revolutionary to say that costumes, sets, and props get in the way of us seeing things in a new way. We’ve all had the experience of seeing a play or a scene in a classroom, a studio, at a reading, with nothing but actors -- it’s riveting. It can be so much better than when it’s surrounded by the “trappings” of theater. We get to make that imaginative leap. It’s one of the reasons I was eager to do this play. However, what was revolutionary in 1938, this lack of theatrical convention, , is not revolutionary at all at Trinity Rep, thanks to forty-three years of Adrian Hall and so many of the artists who followed him. Presenting Our Town as it was originally intended here and now, could have the opposite effect with our audience.

So that was my big question: how can we present the removal of theatrical conventions in a way that will be startling and fresh? The idea I came up with, with the help of our designer Michael McGarty, was to take Wilder to the next step: put the back stage front and center, actually put the dressing rooms on stage as well. We won’t just see the daily life of people in Grover’s Corners but the actual lives of the actors in real time, a two-level upstage, dressing rooms with lighted mirrors and cots and clothes racks and all that stuff. The green room, the back stage with sign-in board and couches and the coffee table for playing cards, and all that stuff that is actually there. The play that Wilder wrote will happen in the downstage area.
This works very nicely. The audience is allowed to take their seats in the theater about 15 minutes before show time. The cast is already present on the second level doing their final preparations; a card game on one side, some stretching on the floor in the middle, some make-up and costume adjustments being made, all as if we weren't there. You can even hear the stage manager warning; "ten minutes to show time", then "five minutes", etc.

During the one intermission, the cast returns upstairs and remains "on stage"; touching up their make up, changing their costume, some played in another card game, and a few hit the cookie jar for some refreshments. While the audience was out and about, some remaining in their seats, to continue to watch the "show".

Talk about audience participation! The setting enabled the text of Our Town wonderfully.

Trinity always uses the aisles to send the cast members in and amongst the audience. We were sitting up on the right side facing the stage and during the second act, Constable Warren stood next to me to deliver his lines (I was sitting at the end of the row) when he was making the rounds of Grover's Corner early one morning.

In the last act, the Stage Manager says:
We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.
Trinity has succeeded in finding a way to present the essence of what Thornton Wilder wanted. If you get a chance to visit Trinity, Our Town is on stage through March 4th.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:21 PM

    awww! sounds like it was another really great show at Trinity, I'm sorry I missed it.