by Thornton Wilder
Directed by David Cromer
Barrow Street Theatre

Reviewed by David Spencer

This may seem a ludicrously short review of a production I’d consider a “must see,” but Our Town by Thornton Wilder remains a deceptively simple affair—well, a mostly simple affair—in David Cromer’s new production, imported from Chicago. In newly staging this look at small-town life (a microcosmic stand-in for the world at large), Mr. Cromer has fashioned a playing space surrounded by audience on three sides; with a perimeter path for actors between rows one and two. He himself plays the Stage Manager who guides us through the evening, with understated, easy confidence and the mild air of a cautionary schoolteacher who wants the lesson to be fun, but not at the expense of the lesson itself.

                  He has surrounded himself with a cast who are, by and large, unknown enough and—here and there—off-center enough to seem as if they are indeed just folks rather than actors, most of them in mildly symbolic rehearsal clothing, as if they’ve just entered the theatre off the street. Even as if—this will sound like it’s not a compliment at all when in fact it’s only that—some of them were plucked from the ranks of community theatre. Not because there’s anything amateurish about them, but because they’re unvarnished, such that you could believe they were cast because the available talent pool had this, which is close, rather than that, which would have been exact, with sincerity standing in for perfect archetype. As if to show that Our Town not only works with minimal props and rough materials, but with make-do casting as well. (Again, it’s not make-do casting, it’s savvy casting of gifted people, but the fine line of tacit illusion creates the totally authentic sense of a small town community bringing its small town sensibility to that of the play.) As described, it may sound like a hat on top of a hat, but as executed it’s a perfect merge of worlds.

                  Then there’s Act Three. The graveyard act. In which a prematurely deceased Emily goes back to visit and relive an ordinary day in her life.

                  And here’s where Cromer does…this amazing thing. This astonishingly brilliant masterstroke that has never been done before, that would seem to be antithetical to the notion of Our Town, but that in fact just brings it on home in a way that is so profound, so moving, so completely memorable, that from here on in, directors will be stealing it for their own productions. And if I tell you what it is, if I even hint at it, it’d be akin to spoiling a mystery by telling you whodunit. You wouldn’t think Our Town could contain such a secret…oh, but it does; and I plead with you: read no other reviews, lest someone in his arrogance, pedantry or simple myopia, decides to give it away; and stay away from internet chats, gossip and dish about it. You’ll want the rush of discovery to be total.

                  And that’s all I’ll say. Our Town. Wilder. Cromer. Barrow Street Playhouse. Go. Now.

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