1938 first edition cover
There is something very beautiful going on at Blank Canvas Theatre. Artistic Director and Theatre Founder Patrick Ciamacco has assembled a strong cast to present the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. Our Town is a 1938 three-act play that tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners, between 1901 and 1913, through the everyday lives of its citizens. The play is divided into three acts: Act One is Daily Life, where we meet the townspeople and especially young Emily Webb (Becca Frick) and George Gibbs (Perren Hedderson). Act Two is Love and Marriage, where Emily and George decide to get married. Act Three is Death and Dying, which is a reflection of loss and ongoing life. All along this journey are the residents of Grover’s Corners, who provide the physical and emotional backdrop for this particular voyage of existence.
While waiting for the play to begin, chirping birds fill the theatre with a calming air. Inviting us to put our feet up and relax and wait for Andy Griffith to stroll in whistling his famous sitcom anthem. In front of the audience are black walls and floor, and just two tables with 4 chairs apiece. Very close to literally a blank canvas. And, that is all you get. However, with those tools the cast creates bedroom window conversations, meetings, kitchen tables, a cemetery and a wedding. The cast mimes everything else, whether it is a horse, or sucking a straw drinking a fantastic concoction made at the local ice cream parlor. But, I shouldn’t have said, “That is all you get”, because what fills the evening is an array of actors who engagingly build the world of Grover’s Corners.
Darius Stubbs starts your excursion as the Stage Manager. I do understand that Morgan Freeman is the “go to” guy for human underscoring. But, I call bullshit! I want Stubbs to narrate my whole life, and take over Neil deGrasse Tyson’s spaceship and explain to me why Pluto isn’t a fucking planet anymore. The reason I say that is that Stubbs is incredibly engaging. His truth honed performance handles the narration and characterization of this piece with supreme charming resonance. His opening and closing of each act, provide beautiful bookends to a piece of classic theatre that makes you smile, warms your heart, and eventually, makes you fight to keep your tears from invading your cheeks.
The love interest is played in spectacular fashion by Frick and Hedderson. Frick practically glows in the non-complicated lighting that keep this production simple and real. She has a beautiful manner and truth about her, as she progresses through her life cycle. All the while, displaying a deftly nuanced performance. Hedderson is so real and grounded, his George resonates with every soulful down to earth individual that you have ever met. Providing such an open and caring persona, it is easy to meld into his world and experience his growth, his joy, and eventually his pain. A beautiful performance.
There are two sets of parents that are prominently featured in this play. Both couples are portrayed with homespun wholesomeness. As stated in the program, we find Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs played by John J Polk and Laura Starnik. These are two mighty fine performances. Polk portrays his character with an authentic texture. You believe him and every emotion he is asked to interpret. Whether caring about the family or handling the inevitable loss, Polk stays true in classic form. Starnik is in a razor sharp focus in this production. I can actually see her regenerating herself emotionally like a transformer. She is steadfast and solid as she traverses the seemingly mundane daily chores of life, but provides an emotional excursion.
Mr. and Mrs. Webb, played by Lance King and Lynna Metrisin respectively, seem to have come out of the pages of this script reliving past lives. Totally turning over their performances with an honest, surface edge, and making the day to day activities have purpose, with flawless execution. Both actors are in fine form as they interpret their characters. You see love. You see concern. You see pain. You see life. Beautiful characterizations.
The rest of the cast is well etched into the American landscape of Grover’s Corners. The young folk have incredible focus and professionalism. Kudos to Joseph Daso (Wally Webb), Cara Myers (Si Crowell), Colin Myers (Joe Crowell), and Makenna Weyburne (Rebecca Gibbs). What is left is a lively, or Grover lively, bunch of citizens who round out the town with their own brand of honest portrayals. Nate Summers, as Howie Newsome, made me want to give his horse, Bessie, a carrot when he passed by me. Kevin Myers turns in a solid Professor Willard and Joe Stoddard. Len Lieber endearingly wobbles his way as Simon Stimson. Sharron DeCosta gets the Chatty Kathy award for giving Mrs. Soames realness and energy. Constable Warren, who has to be Republican, is given life by Christopher Fortunato. And Brett Heidinger nicely completes the picture as Sam Craig.
Director Pat Ciamacco has produced a great expedition to Grover’s Corners. Casting is solid, and the pace of the show is true and honest. Each act was over before I knew it, and that kept the tale alive and relevant. Ciamacco also provided the design for Lighting, Set and Sound. Each was well done, and provided a classic showcase. Music Director Matthew Dolan made sure the choir sounded great. I thought, “Oh boy, here we go”, but the sound was appropriate and effective. Brittany Gaul called a tight show and certainly added to the rhythm of the performance. Luke Scattergood provided comfortable costumes that enhanced each character.
I really enjoyed seeing the show. The last time I saw a production of Our Town was over 20 years ago. It felt good to be fighting that tear. I love when a production moves me. And this one did. Bravo.
$18 General Admission
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Blank Canvas Theatre
1305 West 80th Street, Suite 211
Cleveland, OH 44102