Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town defies many conventional theatrical boundaries. The "Stage Manager" (Charles Bosworth) is a free-roaming narrator who addresses the audience, describing the idyllic town of Grover's Corners, N.H. At times he interacts with characters, and he summons a historian to field (planted) questions from the audience about the town. During a recent run at the Anthony Bean Community Theater, the Stage Manager even described what was available at the concession stand (spinach-artichoke-crawfish dip).
Wilder's play focuses on the neighboring Webb and Gibbs families, whose respective children, Emily (Greta Zehner) and George (Michael Alexander), grow up, fall in love and get married. Wilder fills the play with the rituals of daily life, like the delivery of milk every morning and chatter about the weather, sunrise and sunset.
Director Anthony Bean updated the setting from the early 20th century to the 1950s, and included an explicit racial element. In his version, the people of Grover's Corner live free of prejudice, although the rest of the country does not. It isn't until George and Emily are about to wed that the issue of an interracial relationship is broached, and it's revealed George's grandfather was killed for traveling with his white wife in Louisiana.
The story lacks conflict save George and Emily's jitters about marrying young. For such a long play— that employs so much professorial-style narration — it's surprisingly compelling. Confident performances by Zehner and Alexander grounded the more immediate scenes. In one instance, they ably fabricated an emotionally critical turning point in their young relationship after the narrator parachuted them into the scene.
Wilder's play is concerned with whether people let their lives slip by in daily installments with insufficient contemplation or enjoyment. He underscores his point with a funeral in the final act, which works here, and has nothing to do with race. There probably is a good reason for these characters to explore the world outside Grover's Corners. But recast as a bastion separate from the segregated United States of the 1950s, one might wonder why they would leave its safe and peaceful environs. It's pleasant to visit Grover's Corners as imagined by Bean, but compared to Wilder's version, it's hard to leave it without a much clearer sense of the cost of an unexamined life. It's an interesting twist on a remarkable play. — Will Coviello