The setting of "Our Town" is the fictitious community of Grovers Corners, N.H., in 1901, but the story could transpire in any small American town, even in the present day. It is a story about ordinary human beings and the challenges they face as they make their way from youth to the grave.
The Ritz Teen Thespian Guild has chosen this classic drama by Thornton Wilder as its annual fall production. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at The Ritz Theatre.
Wilder utilized innovative theatrical devices for "Our Town." Most notably, he makes the stage manager a character who speaks to the audience as a narrator and occasionally takes minor roles in the dramatization.
PHOTO BY PAT GAIETTO
Anthony Currier (left), as George,
exchanges pleasantries with Myka Scott, as Emily, in this scene from “Our Town.”
PHOTO BY PAT GAIETTO
Mr. Webb (John Spahr) provides statistics about his town.
Instead of an elaborate set, a few set pieces represent the various locations in Grovers Corners, and the actors pantomime much of the action with limited props and a few sound effects. The audience can focus on the characters and relate to their emotions and behavior.
As the title suggests, their stories - or at least parts of them - are also our stories.
With pre-1915 music playing, the play begins on a bare stage illuminated only by a "ghost light." The stage crew carries in two garden trellises and picket fences to indicate the homes of the Gibson and Webb families as the stage manager (Blake Borer-Miller) introduces the play.
At the helm
This is the first time a RTTG production has been directed by a former Teen Thespian. Director Mika Bree Gibson was home-schooled in Tiffin and now is studying at North Central State College.
Gibson said she attended The Ritz summer theater camps for 12 years and then performed in the teen productions of "1984" and "Midsummer Night's Dream" under the tutelage of Ritz Education Director Dianne Pytel.
A chalkboard is brought onstage with a map of Grovers Corners, population 2,642. The most recent additions are the twins Doc Gibson delivered that morning, a foreshadowing of another birth later in the play.
Local residents can tell time by the trains passing through, school bells and the noise of children at recess.
Soon, two mothers appear in their respective kitchens to fix breakfast and get their children off to school. In the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Webb are John Spahr and Samantha Gaietto. Myka Scott and Tristan Rodgers play the Webb siblings, Emily and Wally, respectively.
Trent Dundore and Katja Bryant are cast as Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs, with Anthony Currier and Haley Carter playing the Gibbs children, George and Rebecca. This is the first appearance of the central characters, George and Emily.
Act I, "Daily Life," includes appearances by Joshua Fanning as the paper boy and Trenton Heishman as the milkman with his horse-drawn wagon. They portray a time when newspapers, the post office and general store were the main sources of news. Automobiles were scarce.
Evyn Stevens as Professor Willard offers statistics about the geology and natural history of Grovers Corners.
Mr. Webb adds more details and even takes questions from audience members.
The characters often refer to the weather and the moon, which appears above the silhouetted "skyline" of the town. Mrs. Soames and other women of the church choir wonder about the sobriety of their director, Simon, also played by Stevens. Damian Shaull portrays the benevolent Constable Warren, who guards the community.
Act II, "Love/Marriage," begins with George and Emily's wedding day in 1904. George dodges rain puddles to have breakfast with Mr. Webb. They discuss wedding traditions and how to treat one's spouse. A flashback dramatizes the day when the bridal couple first made a commitment to one another.
Doc Gibbs is reminded of his own wedding day, and Mrs. Webb regrets not giving her daughter more information about sexuality. The bride and groom also reveal the mix of excitement and uncertainty most couples experience in their relationships.
The stage manager mentions the ancestors who may be witnessing the nuptials. This and other references emphasize the universality of the human experience. The rain symbolizes sorrow to come.
"Death/Loss" is the title of Act III, which takes place in a graveyard in 1930. Simon, Wally, Mrs. Soames and Mrs. Gibson are seated among other deceased citizens of Grovers Corners. They converse quietly as rain falls and a procession arrives to deliver Emily to the cemetery. She has died giving birth to her second child, leaving George a devastated single father.
Emily senses she can return to the world of the living for a short time, against the advice of the other cemetery residents. She chooses her 12th birthday, but soon returns, unable to bear the precious memories. Except for Simon, Emily and the others realize they did not cherish life as much as they should have.
Completing the cast are Elizabeth Smith, Shayla Thomas, Beca Kimmel, Sagan Kahler, Gabrielle Schmucker, Molly Makesmetz, Chaneice Jones, Dominique Herrera, Sharette Bauman, Maddy Gunder, Dylan Gibson, Colleen Dicken, Kassidy Heil, Olivia Lemmon, Riley Moffett, Raven Rodgers and Regina Smith.
Three exchange students are involved in the production. Ebba Ribbing portrays Mrs. Soames, while Nico Villamizar of Colombia and Lena Simmler of Germany are members of the stage crew.
Erin Salle is the production stage manager, assisted by Elise Pahl. Technical and remaining stage crew are Dicken, Emily Bishop, Madison Auble and Kyle Hammer.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. For tickets and information, visit www.ritztheatre.org or call (419) 448-8544.