October 27, 2006

Our town

I remember that in my freshman year at St. Viator, the drama club put on Our town, but my main memory is that they put a sign over the auditorium door with GROVER'S CORNERS and its populationósetup for a cast member to come out before the house opens, update the number, and announce to the waiting audience, "Twins!"

But I didn't actually see it (not sure why) at that point. So I was walking into tonight's show more or less cold. And sort of stayed cold for a while; the show had a very slow start, unusually so for a Knox mainstage. Everybody was stumbling over text that was written in light dialect but being enunciated as if Standard English. Few of the actors were up to the task of a prop-less set, with nearly every interaction with an invisible item, be it a horse or a teacup, looking awkward and not very believable. How big is that newspaper supposed to be? Have you ever even seen a push-reel lawnmower? (Exception: the missuses had their kitchen routine down pat.)

Happily, though, once the stage was "set", as it were, most scenes turn to a very strong focus on dialogue. The super-minimalist set only helps here, since with nothing but two people and a bunch of chairs on stage, well, you pay attention to the people. And so, from about halfway through the first act, things started looking up. They did a good casting job, and from there on out, the characters were permitted to shine. Every little nervousness, worry, joy, sadness, it all came through. The chemistry between George and Emily (Matt Allis and Eden Newmarkóboth of whom I've written of before) was positively electric (if I may be permitted to mix a metaphor). In the soda shop scene I was just a bundle of nerves watching the two of them. It was fantastic.

The graveyard scene was suitably creepy, and watching the character changes was interesting. It was at this point that I finally put my finger on something else about the staging: arranging the invisible sets as they did gave the whole affair a sense of displacement in a strict etymological sense. That is, it takes a basic sense of place, and bends it and twists it around. This grave is both over here and over there. This ladder is representing what actually lies up those stairs behind it. The patch of stage right there is either the lane leading up to the house, or the back of the kitchen, depending on what direction they're moving. This displacement, perhaps even more than the proplessness and the setlessness, engenders a sense that this, all this, is an abstraction of real life, and therefore much more broadly applicable than any mere concrete story could hope to be. Which is probably why, despite the (more or less) period costume and the age of the piece itself, this play doesn't seem dated and certainly is not a period piece. I really wish they'd done their usual dramaturgy for the show, because (aside from giving something to read during intermission) I find that reading the dramaturgical analysis gives me a foundation for this sort of speculative streakónot to mention a vocabulary with which to talk about it. :P

The ending was worth particular mention: through the wedding and through all the terribly sad stuff that happens in the graveyard, nothing, but when George walks out at the very end? Without even saying a word? I totally cried. How do they do that?

"All the 'tipping point' theories in the world won't protect Sprint from the basic truth that the LG Fusic user interface could basically serve as an almost complete textbook for a semester-long course in user interface design, teaching students of usability exactly what NOT to do." --Joel Spolsky

Posted by blahedo at 11:55pm on 27 Oct 2006
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