Review: 'Our Town' hits close to home

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Public Theater opens its 39th season with a production that could not be more aptly named.

Each and every member of the 24-person cast of “Our Town” either lives here or has ties to the local community.

Some have a long history with the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Tom Atkins, who heads up the cast as the Stage Manager and the play's narrator, has appeared in 18 productions, including one in the company's inaugural season.

Two others — Daniel Krell and Larry John Meyers — are each performing in their 20th production with the company.

Ted Pappas, who served as both the director and scenic designer, has created a production that not only reintroduces audiences to Thornton Wilder's 75-year-old classic, but reminds us of the depth and proficiency of our local talent pool.

With actors such as Cary Anne Spear and John Shepard deftly filling prominent roles like Mrs. Webb and Dr. Gibbs, or actors such as James Fitzgerald, Meyers and Linda Haston creating real, distinct characters in smaller roles, it's our town that populates “Our Town.”

Ability and imagination are necessary to make “Our Town” a success.

Wilder's sparely staged, highly theatrical drama takes place in three acts from 1901 to 1913 in the small New Hampshire village of Grover's Corners.

Each of the three acts focuses on different aspects of existence — daily life, love and marriage, death and loss.

We experience those concepts while focusing on young George Gibbs and Emily Webb as they grow to adulthood, marry and move through life. Patrick Cannon's George is steady and honorable but a bit dull. You can't help but feel that Erin Lindsey Krom's spirited and sharp but inexperienced Emily could have done better.

Pappas' stark stage design — a black floor decorated with a white playing circle and surrounded by black walls — calls on actors and the audience to fill in the details and decorations for the interiors and exteriors of homes, stores, church and cemetery.

As Stage Manager, Atkins is an all-seeing, benign, but detached presence who drives the play forward while shooing talkative characters off the stage and interjects the occasional astute observation.

He begins by giving the audience a tour of the village and its citizens.

But beyond those directions and some tables and chairs, a pair of ladders and a few sound and light cues, actors create the books, coffee cups, horses and newspapers of daily life through mimed gestures.

Some add comic touches, notably Wali Jamal as a milkman with an unseen but bossy horse. Others, such as Krell, can create a distinctly moving character with only a few lines and footsteps.

The result is a chronicle of village life and individual lives composed of simple, everyday and often under-appreciated activities — prepping green beans for canning, smelling the heliotrope in the garden at sunset, enjoying a bit of gossip after choir practice or admiring the moon from a bedroom window.

For audience members willing to collaborate on building “Our Town,” their visit to Grover's Corners can be insightful and moving.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

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