When Thorton Wilder was born in 1897, parishioners had already been gathering at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church for 30 years, the last three in the striking red-brick sanctuary at 3rd and A Streets Southeast. Eight years after Wilder died in 1975, St. Mark’s Players was born, a community theater dedicated to using theater “to explore our lives—theologically and personally.” Now in their 40th year, the Players have staged an admirable production of Wilder’s beloved Our Town, which runs until October 21. It’s a beautiful confluence of history, community, architecture, and spirit.
If you’re not familiar with Our Town, relating its events only goes so far in saying what it’s about. Over three acts, a Stage Manager (Alix Neenan) guides us through the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. In act one, we watch the hamlet’s routines on an ordinary day (May 7, 1901, to be exact), from the early morning milk delivery to the evening choir practice. Act two shows the courtship of George Gibbs (Tony Lemus) and Emily Webb (Allegra Hatem), from teenage attraction to young adult marriage. Act Three takes us to a peaceful hilltop cemetery for a funeral.
The real subject of Our Town is Wilder’s urgent entreaty that we awake to life’s wonders, even in their most mundane forms, while we can. The message rings clear in St. Mark’s Players’ production under the direction of Sabrina McAllister. While the first act occasionally feels like breaking in new shoes, the production finds its footing in the second, particularly in the parental prenuptial pep talks. The third act, perhaps one of the greatest ever written in the American theater, delivers without a misstep.
The cast’s performances are appropriately simple, grounded, and genuine. Tony Lemus and Allegra Hatem shine as George and Emily. Their transformations from self-conscious teenagers to adults on the cusp of responsibility are effective, as are their separate griefs and epiphanies in the third act. Madeline Mustin delightfully mugs as George’s precocious younger sister, and Gerardo Mijares-Shafai simmers with pain as the town’s anguished inebriate.
Neenan brings a quiet but charming presence as the Stage Manager. Part investigator, part instigator, the Stage Manager informs, summons, comments, and philosophizes throughout the 135-minute runtime. Thornton Wilder tackled the challenging role himself numerous times. Neenan’s earnest and animated performance reveals flashes of wry humor and an inquisitive nature, but at times slips into inscrutability. Her deliveries could use more variety to fully color Wilder’s beautifully homespun poetry.
The sets are intentionally minimal, but Heather Cipu’s designs clearly designate the playing space, as does Ashley Holmes’s lighting design. Both designers wisely enlist the interior of the church, with its arches and stained glass, to aid their work. Cecelia Albert and Angela Cirino designed costumes that mix and match 20th- and 21st-century clothes.
Our Town rewards close listening and watching, as does this production. It is a testament to how the most profound truths require little more than honesty, integrity, and sincerity. Our town needs those so.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions.
Our Town plays October 12–13 and 19–21, 2023, at 8 PM and October 14 at 2 PM and 8 PM presented by St. Mark’s Players performing at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 301 A Street SE, Washington DC. Tickets ($25 for adults; $22 for students and seniors) may be purchased at the box office or online.