We gave it an A-
Thornton Wilder’s classic play might be titled Our Town, but with director David Cromer’s reimagining of the Pulitzer-winning three-act show, it should be renamed Your Town. Why? The inventive staging in Cromer’s deconstructed Off Broadway production literally puts the viewer on stage. The cast moves about several rows of audience members as they act out their lives in the small town of Grover’s Corners, N.H., delivering milk and the morning newspaper, enjoying family breakfasts, and holding a wedding ceremony, among other simple daily activities. In fact, the Stage Manager (Cromer himself originated the role in this revival; it’s now played by Stephen Kunken) even interacts with a few of on-stage spectators, having them yell out predetermined questions from note cards. The effect works magically, as the day-to-day life of the characters becomes more intimate, especially during the highly expository first two acts.
As anyone who’s seen a production of Our Town knows, the show’s poignant punch lies in the third act. And that’s even more so the case here, as the last chapter — when Emily, the central character who gets married in act two, dies and ascends to the hill overlooking Grover’s Corners with all the rest of the town’s deceased — blows the hum-drum first two chapters out of the water. As Emily, actress Jennifer Grace is guttural in those final, emotional scenes.
Emily, realizing that she’s taken her short life for granted, gets the chance to go back to enjoy just one day with her family. She watches a rather normal, snowy morning in Grover’s Corners unfold, where her mom is cooking breakfast. In all the kitchen scenes before, the wives mimed the cooking, but this time, you can literally smell the bacon, seeing and hearing it sizzle in the pan. The familiar pungence serves as a brilliant exclamation point to Emily’s heartbreak. The audience comes to realize that everything in those first two acts — events that seemed rather run-of-the-mill, non-starters — were actually beautiful, tiny love notes of everyday life. Emily’s devastation becomes your devastation, and it’s incredibly moving. Our Town makes you stop and think about the fragility of your own life and death — or, at the least, just how delicious the smell of bacon can be. Grade: A?
(Tickets: Smarttix.com or 212.868.4444)