Professor Robert Stoddard and the Southern Virginia University theatre program had a successful Valentine’s Day with the opening of their performance of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play “Our Town.” Opening night’s patrons were surprised with door prizes and Valentine’s Day gifts, but the real treat was the play itself. It was performed up close and personal on the floor of Chandler Hall with the audience on three sides!
The play included a cast of 18 students, faculty and community members. Professor Robert Stoddard plays the stage manager, our guide through the small town of Grover’s Corners in the more innocent American times of the early 20th century. He narrates the lives of a handful of the town’s locals, focusing on Emily Webb (Rebekah Taylor), the daughter of a housewife (Jasmine Anderson), and George Gibbs (Kjell Henness), the son of the local doctor (Justin Winslow). Professor Stoddard chronicles the love story of Emily and George, their marriage, and the tragic death that separates them.
The role of stage manager is a tricky one as he creates the bridge between the audience and the actors, interacting with both as a narrator and commentator. Periodically, he joins the team of actors, in a variety of roles (e.g. the reverend, the soda shop owner, local townsmen, etc.).
In three acts, “Our Town” tells the story of life in the small fictitious town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. From what starts as a simple morning in the year 1901, the play blooms into a moving portrayal of how the simple things we do every day are what’s really worthwhile in our lives. The characters were sympathetic and well cast. Their costumes were modern, which emphasized the timelessness of the theme. The play concludes with a tone of motivation, encouraging everybody to appreciate the present, and wishing the audience a good night.
Choosing “Our Town” was the right move. The play is very unconventional. The script calls for few props and little scenery. With the exception of chairs, tables and benches, the actors mostly mime their interactions with invisible props. The surroundings, like the props, are also mostly created in the viewer’s mind. This allows the actors to transform the aisles, in between where audience members are seated, into another part of the set. The stage effects were my favorite part of the play! This feat of minimalism requires a great deal of courage, but as it was undertaken so wonderfully, it created a humble atmosphere that really let the message of the play take its rightful place.
If you missed it last weekend, “Our Town,” will continue to run this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Chandler Hall!
(Post by Brian Caycho ’16. Photos by Lindsey Morgan ’13.)