At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.
Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Allyson McMackon
Costumes by Brandon Kleiman
Sound by Paul Humphrey (Act Three)
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Cast: Hume Baugh
Sarah Machin Gale
Thornton Wilder’s beautiful play given the special, poignant Theatre Rusticle treatment.
The Story. This is the story of a day or so in the life of the good people of the small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. It’s about falling in love, expectations, hopes, dreams, disappointments, marriage, death and living. It takes place in the present and between 1901-1913. It is also a story about making theatre. A Stage Manager tells us about the town and the inhabitants and what happened to them and will happen to them. Very theatrical.
It’s mainly about two families, The Webb family and the Gibbs family. We watch as George Gibbs and Emily Webb fall in love, marry and then suffer devastating loss. This is not giving anything away. Our Town is a classic and the story is out there.
The Production. Theatre Rusticle is a wonderful physical based company that presents vivid stories through compelling movement. A note from the program sums up perfectly what they do: (Our Town) “is a play about making theatre and we offer you as many details of that as we can, from music we warm-up to, to a process with physical ease that asks the performer to embody action, to an empty space that will soon be full of many things and many people.”
There is one prop and that is a rack of clothing in the middle of the empty space. As we enter the theatre the cast of 10 is doing its warm-up. Some actors see people in the audience they know and embrace them. There is no adherence to the “fourth wall” with this piece. Some flit around the space. One woman does a ballet warm-up. She has great extension and a flexible arch. Matthew Finlan who will play many parts, including George Gibbs, is particularly watchable. He does push-ups with ease. He is extremely flexible and obviously a devotee of yoga. He does an impressive downward dog that flows into upward dog. I was mighty impressed. Audiences love this-watching the actors prepare. It lets them in on the secret of how the magic is made.
In this production every actor speaks a few lines of the Stage Manager instead of one person playing the part.
In director Allyson McMackon’s bracing, vivid, poignant production various parts are gender fluid without any disruption to the meaning of the play. If anything the playing of various parts with the opposite gender as ‘indicated’ in the text reflects our modern attitude to casting.
Simplicity is the watchword for McMackon’s production. The actions of the milkman delivering milk or the paperboy throwing his papers on porches are all mimed without sound effects. We don’t need them. We know what’s happening.
When George and Emily are talking to each other one evening from their respective bedrooms (they live next door), as they look at the full moon, McMackon has both Matthew Finlan as George and Priscilla Taylor as Emily, stand in the middle of two large spotlights. Voilà, George and Emily bathed in soft moonlight.
When Emily pleads to go back to earth and relive one more day, Priscilla Taylor as Emily does it with such desperation it is startling. This is the most affecting, moving playing of the scene I’ve ever seen. This production of Our Town is full of such surprises and it’s thrilling to still be surprised by a familiar play.
Comment. Our Town is so full of the things that make us human: love, friendship, marriage, respect, grief, regret, compassion, joy and love again. Theatre Rusticle works its typical magic to pare away, simplify and dig deep to realize the complex themes of the work in an absorbing, embracing production. The run is woefully short. It’s a wonderful production. See it.
Theatre Rusticle Presents
Opened: March 26, 2017.
Closes: April 2, 2017.
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.