By NATHALIE PLOTKIN
Our Town" worked its subtle magic once again in the MPC Theatre Company's production of Thornton Wilder's American dramatic classic.
Written in 1938, Wilder broke with theatrical production methods. He specified a bare stage with only a few tables and chairs as scenery and no props, relying rather on sound effects and actors miming their actions to carry the plot forward.
There is a Stage Manager who talks to the audience and keeps them informed as the play progresses, which was quite an innovation at the time. This interactive device has been much imitated ever since.
But, times are now drastically different. The world has changed in the way we live and the things we take for granted, still the feelings of humanity presented during the three acts of "Our Town" have held on very strongly and feelingly.
Throughout the evening they endured and ultimately reached out emotionally as they built the story slowly and subtly.
The Stage Manager, authoritatively played by Mark Shilstone-Laurent, sets the scene by describing the physical layout of Grover's Corners, N.H.
Then he introduces the players in the drama and his observations are the connecting links for the various events that ensue.
This was surely the playwright's inspired method of avoiding cumbersome set changes.
The first act consists of an enactment of an ordinary, uneventful day in a rural town.
You meet the two families whose lives are depicted. Dr. Gibbs (Jerry Gill) is the overworked, old-fashioned, compassionate country doctor (he makes house calls).
Denise Guarnery, his loving and earnest wife, is an equally old-fashioned figure of a loving, caring help mate and mother.
They have a teen-age baseball playing son, George, and a strong-minded young daughter, Rebecca.
Their neighbors, the Webbs, are an equally hard working couple. Mr. Webb is the editor of the town newspaper and Skip Kadish makes him an intelligent and understanding man.
Mrs. Webb (Sally Burns), another wife and mother typical of the era, was firm but lovingly concerned about taking care of her teenage daughter Emily and a young son, Wally.
As the act progresses, the Stage Manager fleshes out the details of their lives so that in the second act, which shows how the teenagers fell in love and married, they had become people we knew.
George Gibbs (Jason Mask) and Emily Webb (Jennifer Muniz) are two very endearing players.
Their attraction to each other is acted with simple charm and a gentleness that is seldom seen now. Their ability to show their emotions and fears at the idea of marriage feel very real.
Finally, Wilder draws all the threads together in the third act, which is the emotional climax of the play.
Set in the town cemetery seven years later, we learn that Emily had died in childbirth, a situation far more common in the early 1900s.
It is her interaction with the other inhabitants of the cemetery and her realization that you can't go back to regain the appreciation of life that was lacking when you had it, that brings the play to its warm, yet heart-wounding ending. It truly touches a chord.
Director Peter De Bono had a competent cast to work with and he paced the play so that it built in intensity as it went along.
At first, there was a rather too-deliberate pace, but as the plot deepened and the involvement of interest became established, it all came together very convincingly.
But, there were times when the cast seemed to forget there was an audience out there and did not project very well.
Some amplification would help, particularly when the action was toward the rear of the stage.
However this was not true of Peter Eberhardt, who made the role of the frustrated alcoholic choir director a standout part.
His bitterness was palpable and Michael Robbins made the cameo role of the long-winded Professor Willard both funny and audible.
As always, the details that help make a production a success were very well carried out. Sound, lights, costumes were all exemplary and the large cast had strength and depth.
If you would like a nostalgic "Our Town" fix, here's an opportunity to get it.