Our Town at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

The ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park are incredible to behold, and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of Our Town is no better way to show them off.

'Our Town' cast. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company does not only produce Shakespeare, much to the benefit of theatergoers. They also produce plays considered classics, as is this great work from Playwright Thornton Wilder. Wilder’s play – set at the turn of the century but spanning over a decade in scope – is engrossing because of the unique worldview its writer presents. It is a world of insular rural life in small-town New England, where sorrow and hardship are viewed from an eternal perspective.

Directed by Ian Gallanar, Our Town profiles the village of Grover’s Corners. It is hosted by an omniscient Stage Manager, of whom the characters are unaware. This framing device is made even more interesting by involving the audience in the geography of the play. The audience is physically lead from one scene to the next, so that a town hall scene can take place under a pavilion, a scene in an ice cream shop can be held indoors, and a wedding can take place on a massive set of stone stairs. CSC’s Our Town is an experiment in using audience mobility to enhance the play immeasurably. First, by immersing the audience in the ruins. Secondly, since the play skips ahead years at a time, it gives a sense of physical journey as well as a temporal one.

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As Stage Manager, Dave Gamble gives several engrossing monologues, imbued with steadiness and magnetism. Michael P. Sullivan as Dr. Gibbs is superb. There are many unique characters introduced, but the main focus of the play begins centers on Emily and George, the romantic couple. They are played with innocent exuberance by Kelsey Painter and Noah Bird. Families, gossip, and circumstances delay their coupling for a few years, but their biggest challenge looms ahead.

The costumes, designed by Marilyn Johnson, are sharp and seemingly authentic – even from only a few feet away. The pantomime involved in the prop-less production are well choreographed and executed. The accents, an additional challenge, are very consistent. Ian Gallanar and his production team do an amazing job using the ruins to stage this nomadic production which, as mentioned above, greatly enhances the overall experience.

Noah Bird and Kelsey Painter Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Like Emily in the third act, the audience nostalgically walks among the dead. They get to see the lives and architecture of people that lived over a hundred years ago. Both Emily and the audience are surrounded by the past for those few hours, thus forced to confront it.  It makes one appreciate the present, both this moment in history and every minute we experience. As Emily says, “Every, every minute

Our Town plays through October 30th, at Chesapeake Shakepseare Company at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, in Ellicott City, MD. For tickets, call (410) 313-8874, or purchase them online.