Review by Robin Breon
Back in 1988, when Stratford's then artistic director, John Neville, dissolved the Festival's Young Company, he deprived the artistic leaders of one generation a place to grow and mature their art. No matter, necessity was the mother of invention for a group of talented, young classical performers who were not about to let despair turn into cynicism and defeat of their aspirations. Led by Albert Schultz the group formed Soulpepper and since 1998 the company has been giving Stratford a head-on run for its money by mounting seasons that overlap, compete and many times offer artistically superior product compared to that seen on the Stratford stage.
The great success of Soulpeppers' production of Our Town is more the celebration around the opening of their new permanent home in Toronto's historic Distillery District than in the play itself. The $14 million renovation/restoration is an architectural triumph and while the good burghers of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, ply their streets and sidewalks with due diligence, the production itself might best be described as pedestrian.
There are standouts in the cast however and one cannot dismiss the wonderful chemistry and new interpretation given to George (Jeff Lillico) and Emily (Martha MacIsaac) by director Joseph Ziegler who imbues the characters with an ice cream soda laced with a scoop of apprehension.
Our real town is a much different place than Grover's Corners. The challenge for these new residents will be to reflect the contemporary sensibility of this vibrant multicultural city within their classical artistic mandate. In the meantime - as they get on with the task of interior designing - may they enjoy the comfort of their new home.