Trending
MOST READ
‘Walking the Camino’ Explores a Treacherous Trek Through Spain

‘Walking the Camino’ Explores a Treacherous Trek Through Spain

Screens: In the Middle Ages, pilgrims walked the 500-mile El Camino de Santiago de Compostela as a pilgrimage to the tomb of Apostle St. James. It was an... By Stephen James Ross 10/22/2014
SAPD Issues Thousands of Tickets for Homelessness

SAPD Issues Thousands of Tickets for Homelessness

News: Data and records obtained by the Current show that between January 1, 2013, and early October of this year the... By Alexa Garcia-Ditta and Elaine Wolff 10/22/2014
Chris Pérez, Selena’s Husband, Faces His Past and Looks Forward, Musically

Chris Pérez, Selena’s Husband, Faces His Past and Looks Forward, Musically

Music: Chris Pérez never saw it coming. “All I ever wanted to do was play guitar,” he told the Current. “I never thought I’d be the subject of an interview... By Enrique Lopetegui 8/28/2013
A Closer Look: The ins and outs of a few important races

A Closer Look: The ins and outs of a few important races

News: For more than a year now gubernatorial candidates Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott have dominated airwaves and secured way... By Mark Reagan 10/22/2014
5 Awesome Ways to Survive on Ramen

5 Awesome Ways to Survive on Ramen

College Guide 2013: Nearly every college student has lived off of ramen noodles at one point or another. What a lot of them didn’t know was that the classic just-add-water... By Mary Caithn Scott 8/20/2013
Calendar

Search hundreds of restaurants in our database.

Search hundreds of clubs in our database.

Follow us on Instagram @sacurrent

Print Email

Performance

Vexler Theatre presents Thornton Wilder classic

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Rusty Thurman and Heather Manly in the Vex’s production of Our Town.


With its production of Thornton Wilder’s iconic Our Town, the Vexler lifts a good idea from a Chicago-area theater — but it should have lifted one more. Just as the Lookingglass Theater recently suspended the flotsam and jetsam of fictional Grover’s Corners above Wilder’s bare stage, so too does the Vexler hoist the “set” of this production above the Vex’s black box space: a lunarscape of zero-g chairs locked in space. It’s a striking image, and a striking metaphor — if even chairs are wafting off the planet, what hope is there for things of the flesh? We are all of us destined for that suspended animation known most commonly, and simply, as death.

Unfortunately, the Vex should have pilfered from the Windy City’s other version of Our Town, a blockbuster that premiered in 2008 before transferring off Broadway, where it broke records and hearts. As re-conceived by David Cromer, that Our Town stripped away decades of gooey sentimentality and presented the play as the unflinchingly avant-garde work it truly was and is. The Vex’s production, alas, pulls its punches, and presents an Our Town familiar from generations of high school, and even middle school, productions: This is your — rather, our — ninth-grade town.

A nostalgic production it is, with a homey atmosphere that imbues craggy New Hampshire with some oddly Southern charm. Jeri Magee’s gray period costumes are bathed in Ken Frazier’s gloaming light until everything glows in warm sepia tones. This is pleasant enough for a photograph, but not ideal for demarcating the play’s celebrated set-pieces (like Professor Willard’s disquisition on the ages of Earth). As the first two acts explore the rituals of small town life — rituals both profound and mundane — we see local youngsters Emily and George negotiate the contours of their budding relationship, including a famous and lovely courtship atop two ladders, lit solely by the moonlight’s rays. The second act brings marriage, and the third act, hell.

The Vex’s dewy-eyed approach sort of works for the first two acts before belly-flopping in the third. The closer Our Town approaches its heart of darkness, the less comfortable co-directors Tami Kai and Dylan Brainard seem with the grim, cosmic consequences of Wilder’s vision. The play’s head-spinning conceit — that every community on the planet is, was, and ever shall be a necropolis — is bizarrely muted; the talking dead sit scattered and largely forgotten on the periphery of the theater. (They’re exiled to the suburbs, so to speak.) We end up looking at a mostly bare stage instead of what Wilder intended: a group of dead citizens in chairs confronting a group of dead citizens, in chairs. (You’re in the first group, by the way. Or soon will be.)

And so it all comes undone. Emily’s concluding stroll down memory lane — more like a spin ’round dead man’s curve — is awkwardly staged, and lacks the impact required for a truly memorable ending; it also gives Jim Mammarella’s avuncular Stage Manager little to soliloquize about. In fact, much of the poetry of Our Town is lost in this production. The famous definition of Grover’s Corners as a zip code in the mind of God is here a throw-away line, for no apparent reason. On opening night, the actors were visibly nervous, with some stammered phrases: I’ve the feeling that the staging was still gelling.

We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus