Thursday September 21st 2017

“Our Town”

Recommended *** everyone has ( or should have seen) Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”. The play is 70 years old and probably  every high school and community theater in the country has produced a version of this warm story of a small town back in the early 1900’s. Wilder created a simple show with no sets and for the most part ,little in the way of  props. I have seen this show on large stages and small, but to be honest, never in a “storefront”, in particular, one as small a space as  redtwist theatre, the most intimate of spaces in the Edgewater Community.

Director James Fleming, making his directorial debut with “Our Town” has opted to take the show to a little different place. In Wilder’s play, our small town must deal with social issues, such as addiction, choices in life and a lot of why’s and who’s. In this production, Fleming has opted to cast females in what would be classic male roles and vice-versa. Besides the gender-bending casting, there are also many racially mixed roles. As long as you know up-front that there are differences, the beauty of the play is not affected by this nuance. In fact, after the first glance of his using this technique, it never crossed my mind again.

The story is told by a Narrator who is called The Stage Manager ( while I liked Richard Costes in this role, and his amazing ability to “sign” his dialogue, I found him to be more of an outsider than he should have been). From time to time, hebecomes other characters that inhabit the Town of Grovers Corners. Each of the main families is introduced to us and in this tiny little “black box” theater, the actors are in our reach for all three acts. Oh, yes, they are presenting the show in three segments dealing with a sort of “birth”, “marriage” and “death”- there are two intermissions of 10 minutes each and a total running time of  2 hours 20 minutes.

The story is about youth, finding love and also deals with death. This is probably the largest cast ever in this theater and possibly violates all the fire laws for allowed people in a property. I won’t tell, if you won’t!  Fleming has also opted to not use period costuming in order to allow the story to be of greater importance than “stuff”. There are some great technical aspects considering the size of this company: lighting (Daniel Friedman), sound (Connor Wang), props (Shea Messinger) and while this show does not need a major set, Lizzie Bracken designed a very usable one considering the venue itself. Instead of the “ladder”  for George  (Jaq Seifert) and Emily (Elena Victoria Feliz), we have windows above the audience bringing the audience “into” the romance between these two. By the way, they were an amazing couple and we can see the chemistry brewing within and what follows later is absolutely amazing. In case, you have never seen this play, before, I will not spoil it by saying more.

The cast, as I said is larger than normal in this theater, and very talented as well. George’s family, The Gibbs is composed of father, Doc (the always reliable Brian Parry), Mrs. ( deftly handled by Jacqueline Grandt) and little sister, Rebecca ( the adorable Ada Grey). The Webb family is composed of  little brother Wally ( Chinguun Sergelen ), father (Ben Veatch) and the powerful Nicole Michelle Haskins as Mrs. Webb. These are the two families that compose the make-up for “Our Town” and its story, but the ensemble of players are also very integral in making it all clear. They are: Adam Bitterman as Joe Stoddard (the undertaker), Hunter Bryant (Si Crowell), Rebecca Flores (several roles but her “bit” is that as a professor), Johnny Garcia ( as the Constable), Jared David Michael Grant (what a powerhouse in his gender-bending role as Mrs. Soames- during the wedding scene he was hysterical bringing the audience into the show (He drew Denise Marie, an audience member, into becoming a guest instead of an audience member),  Tom Jansson (as Simon Stimson, the town addict), Ramona Kywe, Brian McKnight, Sara Jane Patin, Joel Rodriguez ( Howie Newsome, the milkman), and London Shannon as Joe Crowell. Splendid work by these performers!

While I enjoyed the production and the skilled performances, and adored the use of sound effects to signify things that were happening ( coffee being poured into cups that did not exist, yet we heard hit the table), I found myself feeling cramped in trying to view some of the action , which on two occasions ended up almost on my lap. I adore red twist and the work they do and had no problem dealing with the gender bending. In fact, Seifert, who is referred to as “they, might rank up there with some of the best Georges I have seen. The world of theater is changing, and we must do so accordingly.

“Our Town” will continue at red twist theatre located at 1044 West Bryn Mawr thru October 8th with performances as follows:

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  7:30 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Tickets are $35 – $40 and are open seating. There is a $5 discount for seniors and students. To reserve yours ( and remember this is a tiny venue with, I believe  50 seats) call 773-728-7529 or visit www.redtwist.org

Parking is on the street metered and on the side streets. You can also valet park at some of the restaurants on Bryn Mawr. The RED line Bryn Mawr stop is juts a block away from the theater.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Our Town”

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