If there was an American drama worthy of placement in a time capsule, one of the top choices would arguably be Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Since it premiered in 1938, I doubt a week has passed without a production of this quintessential classic filling a stage. (Well, maybe it took a hiatus during the COVID lockdown, but still.)
Our Town, set in the fictional New Hampshire burg of Grover’s Corners, celebrates daily life through a prism colored by nostalgia, metaphysics, sentimentality, poeticism, and good old-fashioned romance. Fauquier Community Theatre’s current production has dusted off Wilder’s three-act wonder, and if you can catch it before it finishes its run on March 26, it will be well worth the trip to both Vint Hill and Grover’s Corners.
Director Sonia Bronder has expertly assembled a memorable production with period detail, warm relationships, and eye-catching design. In fact, Bronder is a multi-tasker times four, having designed the lighting, sound, and scenic elements, along with directing. A little bird told me she also pitched in on costumes, along with the cast. The results look like a tintype come to life, especially the fashions from the 1900s. The men are dapper and the ladies look refined as Gibson Girls. The effect of the costume design and vintage veneer is to add specificity to Wilder’s well-known text. When the Stage Manager — the masterful Stub Estey — talks of horse and buggies, and chronicles the span of years from 1901 to 1913, I was swept into the time period.
Speaking of Estey, with a grand mustache, brown suit, and fedora, the Stage Manager entered the stage as if he walked out of Wilder’s original production. (Google the late, great Charlie Ruggles for Estey’s doppleganger.) Estey’s stage presence — calming, warm, slightly aloof — was picture-perfect.
Surrounding Estey is a company of winning actors, each one fitting into the homespun world with warmth and a depth of expression that was palpable. As the youngsters Emily and George, Angelina LookingGlass and Jiles Burnham displayed onstage chemistry. Both were believable as young teens and as their more mature selves in the latter act. Along with Estey, the pair brought to life the romantic and sweet soda fountain scene, followed by their marriage, with heartfelt realism. Their rendering of Emily and George’s bittersweet conclusion was shattering. Savvy patrons might want to be sure to have some tissues handy.
Scott Graham and Fallon Duff were Doc and Mrs. Gibbs, while Sharon Ray and Larry Finkel played their neighbors, the Webbs. The actors portraying these small-town professionals and their hard-working, homemaking wives brought humor and pathos throughout their scenes. Kiera Pechiney made the most of her scenes as George’s sister Rebecca, and Cambric Teasley brought Emily’s brother Wally to life memorably.
The entire ensemble — from Marty Kelly, as Howie Newsome, to Nancy Estey, as the “Lady in the Box” (who asks if there is culture in Grover’s Corners) — were perfectly cast to people the fictional New Hampshire town with living, breathing citizens who did Wilder proud. Bronson Rodriguez not only stumbled convincingly as the town drunk, Simon, but his musical skills were also put to great use as the church organist and choirmaster, with Rodriguez playing the keyboard with grace and beauty.
There are essays and articles out there that question the relevance of an 85-year-old play about daily life in a bygone small town. But the beauty of Wilder’s three-act drama is akin to Shakespeare, with themes that are broad and universal: family, home, marriage, and — front and center in act three — death. If theater is the art that holds a mirror up to life, then Our Town is one of the most poignant looking-glasses we have. And luckily we have the Fauquier Community Theatre production to hold that mirror up with style, heart, and care.
Our Town plays through March 26, 2023, at Fauquier Community Theatre located at 4225 Aiken Drive, Warrenton, VA. Tickets ($18 adult, $16 senior and student) are available for purchase online, at the door, or by calling the box office at 540-349-8760.
COVID Safety: Fauquier Community Theatre is following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health. As such, we will not have any seating or distancing restrictions. Face coverings are optional. If you feel sick or are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone sick, please do not attend. The theater’s complete COVID Procedures are here.
By Thornton Wilder
Directed by Sonia Bronder
Produced by Stub Estey
Cast: Stub Estey, Scott Graham, Fallon Duff, Kiera Pechiney, Gene Schmiel, Robin Dalusung, Leigh Somerville, Emily Ray, Gregory Leggott, Therese Albrigo, Sharon Ray, Cambric Teasley, Larry Finkel, Nancy Estey, Anna Boston, Sofia Irwin, Ella Parnell, Marty Kelly, Jiles Burnham, Angelina LookingGlass, Alecia Nault, Bronson Rodriguez, Emily Mossburg, Olivia Ray.
Creative Team: Stage Manager: Emily Mossburg, Light/Sound/Set Design: Sonia Bronder, Music Arrangement and Organist: Bronson Rodriguez, Make-up & Hair: Cast, Sound Engineers: Cole Clark, Morgan Pepin, Set Construction: John and Sonia Bronder, Seamstresses: Sabrina Chandler, Claudia Tameris, Stage Crew: Anna Boston, Emily Ray, Ella Parnell, Olivia Ray, Sofia Irwin.