ARTS

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February 24, 2009

Schwimmer and other notables go to Town with Thornton Wilder’s drama

If you liked David Schwimmer as Ross in Friends, then you’ll love him as George in Lookingglass’s production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Directed by Anna Shapiro and Jessica Thebus, Lookingglass’s rendition of this classic features a stellar cast, filled with big names from both television and theater. Yet, even with the star-studded cast, this production manages to surpass expectations. A Pulitzer Prize-winning play by the late, great U of C professor Thornton Wilder, Our Town tells the story of people living at the turn of the lost century in a small town in New Hampshire, portraying the intimate details of their lives in a way that is sweet without being overly sentimental. The play focuses on the lives of Emily Webb and George Gibbs, young lovers experiencing the joys and heartbreaks of small-town life. Telling the story of Emily and George’s courtship and marriage, and the tragedies that follow, Our Town shows the complexity and richness of “simple” people’s “simple” lives; as Thorton Wilder explained, his play is “an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily lives.” Lookingglass’s actors masterfully convey the importance of the intimate details of peoples’ lives. The scene where George and Emily fall in love because of a simple, everyday conversation is incredibly poignant, primarily because of David Schwimmer’s exquisite delivery of George’s declaration of his love for Emily. Throughout the play, Schwimmer demonstrates the possibility that a simple person can be deep, conveying just how much is inside the heart of the stupid-but-sweet George. In the role of Emily, Laura Eason does a lovely job delivering a speech about just how much most people miss out on in life by ignoring the details.Other fabulous performances include Christine Mary Dunford’s turn as Emily’s mother and Joey Slotnick’s portrayal of the Stage Manager. As a maternal figure, Dunford seems to be in her element; she manages to convey a realistic picture of a mother who was both stern and loving, and also conveys just the right mix of hope and worry for her children. Slotnick’s narration of the play is positively charming and consistently on the mark. Slotnick plays an everyman with spunk and personality. Even more impressive is Slotnick’s versatility, the way he’s able to adjust his characterization just as the mood of the moment required. Slotnick is funny when he needs to be funny, solemn when he needs to be solemn, and he handles the transitions between these feelings with grace.The actors who play Emily’s and Geroge’s fathers are also excellent in their respective roles. In the role of Dr. Gibbs, David Catlin moved many audience members to tears with an eloquently delivered speech regarding how a woman ought to be treated in her own home. In the role of Mr. Webb, Andrew White was incredibly amusing and frequently made the audience burst out laughing. Because of the special intimacy fostered between the actors and the audience, this show beautifully illustrates the idea that all people—regardless of where they come from or how they live—share something important in common. The theater’s confined space, with audience members close enough to reach out and touch the actors, is put to marvelous use in enhancing this feeling of intimacy. This feeling is magnified by the emotional intensity of the actors and their stunning performances. The spare set and simple costumes focus the audience’s attention on the actors and furthers Wilder’s intention to make us feel the common humanity of men and women everywhere. Ultimately, Lookingglass’s production passionately and articulately communicates Wilder’s belief that, to live our lives to the fullest, we must appreciate the little things.