Thornton Wilder's Our Town takes place in 1901 in fictional Grover's Corners, an idyllic small town of 2,642 people who all seem to know each other. The play won a Pulitzer Prize in 1938 and became an American classic for Wilder's beautiful writing and focus on love, family and community.
But Our Town is not the easiest show to present. There's a large cast, and the script calls for no props — actors pantomime activities in kitchens and at a diner. Act 1 documents a day in the life of the townspeople, and the story focuses on neighboring families the Webbs and Gibbs.
In Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre's production, Carol Sutton plays Stage Manager, an onstage narrator who breaks the fourth wall to address the audience. She fills in details, fleshes out scenes and provides relevant background. Stage Manager has long monologues, and Sutton is exceedingly warm and charming, setting the tone for the show.
The families' matriarchs — Mrs. Gibbs (Ann Dalrymple) and Mrs. Webb (Michelle Benet) — prepare for a busy day, but they find a moment to sit and chat about life and the quirks of their husbands, the lovable Dr. Gibbs (Silas Cooper) and newspaper man Mr. Webb (James Howard Wright). Dalrymple is elegant and has quiet strength that builds as the show progresses. Her performance in Act 3 is affecting in a subtle, almost dreamlike way. Mrs. Webb is a bit more frantic than Mrs. Gibbs, and Benet gives a strong performance.
In his New Orleans directorial debut, new Le Petit Artistic Director Maxwell Williams works effectively with Evan Adamson's spare set, beautifully staging moments such as childhood friends Emily Webb (Sara Minerd) and George Gibbs (Greg Chandler Maness) facing each other from their bedroom windows using two tall ladders. Their childhood friendship evolves into a romantic relationship and propels the play. Emily is bubbly but nervous, and Minerd plays her with fitting coyness. Her high school sweetheart, George, is a bit dull but ultimately lovable. At first Maness' delivery felt too modern, like a contemporary stoner, but he found his groove, particularly during a pre-wedding scene with his new father-in-law Mr. Webb, who Wright plays with touching gruffness. Maxwell guided the show's memorable final act to a poignant conclusion.
Le Petit delivers a shining production of the classic drama. In a technology-driven, hectic age, the message of Our Town — to be present in the moment — feels timely and significant.