By DON FOWLER
My first introduction to Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” was a high school production. My second was a college production, and third a community theatre.
Wilder’s classic play about life, love and death in a small New Hampshire town has been one of the most-produced plays in theatre history. I groaned when Mark Peckham told me that he would be directing it at Burbage. And I cheered when the talented troupe of 18 actors took their bows at last weekend’s opening.
Vince Petronio plays the Narrator with a folksy approach that made you feel like he personally knew all the characters and had actually lived in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire all his life. It felt like the role was written specifically for this talented actor.
Petronio told me after the performance that he, Peckham and the cast looked at the play from a different perspective than they had when they were younger. So did I.
As we look back at a small rural New England town in the very early 1900s, we are amused and a bit jealous of the innocence of everyday life, while also being made aware of the male-dominated culture.
Peckham sets the play in the round for the first two acts, with the actors scattered among the audience. Few props and scenery are used. At the end of the second act, the audience is asked to leave the theatre and wait in the lobby for a few minutes, while chairs are re-arranged and we return to a hillside cemetery.
Not a lot happens over the two-hour production, but by the end of the play you realize that you have learned a lot about life in much less complicated times.
The story centers around Emily (Valerie Westgate) and George (Andrew Iacovelli), two young friends who one day discover they are more than friends. The scene is brilliantly written, directed and acted.
Petronio, Westgate and Iacovelli are the main stars, and they shine brightly. But every character, many in small roles, has their moment. From the overly enthusiastic Professor Willard (Liz Hallenback) telling us more than we need to know about the town’s history to Mrs. Soames (Paula Faber) losing her self-control at a wedding, every actor contributes the mosaic of life in a small town.
Before the play begins and during the two brief intermissions we are treated to a slide show, filled with some familiar sites.
While time passes slowly in “Our Town,” the two hours spent in Pawtucket’s Burbage Theatre fly by, and we leave with a sense of both joy and sorrow from our trip into the past.
“Our Town” is at Burbage Theatre, 249 Roosevelt Ave. in Pawtucket, “around the corner from where Gamm used to be,” through April 7. Go online at www.burbagetheatre.org for tickets.