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Our Town

Nicholas Martin offers up a straightforward revival of Thornton Wilder's classic play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. logo
Brie Larson, Campbell Scott, and
Will Rogers in Our Town
(© T. Charles Erickson)
If you like your Our Town -- the way Thornton Wilder intended it -- you have an ally in director Nicholas Martin, whose faithful take is now on view at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

While designer David Korins makes the most of Wilder's simple set instructions, allowing only ladders, tables, and chairs -- he even erects an effective scaffolding out of the same, suggesting an extensive genealogy of sitters - audiences will find none of the deconstructivist distancing devices found in David Cromer's much-talked-about current Off-Broadway revival.

Here, the Stage Manager (Campbell Scott) is a genial fellow who, although disclosing a glint of Yankee flintiness, is very much of his assigned time And the young lovers - gangly Will Rogers as George Gibbs and luminous Brie Larson as Emily Webb - are true innocents living in an era when a sheltered adolescence was not only possible, but the norm.

The cast of 38, which includes many locals in walk-on parts, is admittedly a bit of a mixed bag. Becky Ann Baker offers an earth-motherly Mrs. Gibbs and Dylan Baker is suitably ruffled and gruff as the newspaper editor Mr. Webb. It's a pity the two (who are married in real life) weren't paired onstage, because their consorts don't quite measure up. John Rubenstein is simply too old to be believable as Doc Gibbs, who recalls getting married as "a young man" -- like son George -- some 20 years ago, and Jessica Hecht's accent and gestures as Mrs. Webb are more redolent of Red Hook than of the Granite State.

As Simon Stimson, the bibulous choirmaster, Jon Patrick Walker makes little of his conducting scene, and then inexplicably, in the graveyard, starts channeling Tennessee Williams. (Is Martin making an oblique suggestion, perhaps, that this unhappy misfit led a closeted life?) Kevin Cahoon and Bryce Pinkham are underutilized in brief burial-ground cameos, while Nancy E. Carroll, given comparable stage time, shines as Ms. Soames, the wedding enthusiast who beams, "I just like to see young people happy, don't you?"

Still, the play falls squarely on the young shoulders of Rogers and Larson, and these young actors could not be better in these pivotal roles. Rogers shares the shambling gait of a young Jimmy Stewart, but has his own unique intonations that suggest the unreliable larynx of a boy fast becoming a man. As a slip of a girl with big dreams and a tender heart, Larson glows throughout -- if perhaps a bit too much in Act 3, by which time a decade as a farm wife should have roughened Emily up and tired her out a bit.

If the closing tableau is more bummer than apotheosis, perhaps the fault lies with Wilder's vision of the afterlife, which seems to embody the worst aspects of small-town politesse. Some of us might prefer the idea of the fiery pit to the prospect of spending eternity in the company of acquaintances who natter endlessly about the weather.

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