Thornton Wilder’s classic 1930s play about small-town America, “Our Town,” has been described as vintage Americana in the early 20th century. In explaining the play to the all-ages student cast, Homer High School band teacher Amy Johnson put another spin on it:
The British science fiction television series follows the adventures of the Time Lord, a mythical transhuman being who can move through space and time. Wilder’s play follows the lives of several families through daily life, love and marriage, and death and dying in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, N.H. Using minimal sets and few props, Wilder lets the characters tell the story without a lot of flash. Acting as the play’s narrative voice, the Stage Manager, played by Maya Jones, breaks the fourth wall between actor and audience.
“I likened him to be a Time Lord,” Johnson said of the Stage Manager character. “The Stage Manager just controls time and space in some ways.”
A collaboration between Homer High School, the Homer Council on the Arts, Pier One Theatre and Friends of the Homer Public Library, “Our Town” features students from West Homer Elementary, Connections, Homer Middle School and Homer High School. It opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday and also shows at 3 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Mariner Theatre. Admission is $10, with special student rates on Saturday of $8. “Our Town” also is a Big Read event, part of a community read of Wilder’s play and his novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”
The cast ranges from 10 to 18 with children new to acting and seasoned Drama, Debate and Forensics, Homer High and Pier One Youth Theatre actors.
“It’s a wide variety of kids involved,” Johnson said. “Some have done theater before and some haven’t. It’s fun to watch them pull it together.”
Jones as the Stage Manager carries a lot on her shoulders and has been pulling the role together, Johnson said.
“She’s responsible for setting the scene every time and letting the audience know what’s going on,” she said. “She’s doing a really good job with that.”
Part of the gimmick of “Our Town” comes from the limited omniscience of the Stage Manager and her role as the play’s viewpoint character. She not only knows what’s going on, but what will happen, like a boy who grows up to die in World War I or that Doc Gibbs will die in 29 years and have the hospital named after him. The Stage Manager even takes an older Emily Webb, played by Lauren Jones, back in time to relieve a day in her youth.
“You feel like the Stage Manager has been in Grover’s Corners as long as it has been existing but also as long as Grover’s Corners exists,” Johnson said.
The small town plot also has a connection to the lives of the cast and audience.
“It’s kind of accurate,” said Trevor Stanish-Kinsel, who plays Mr. Webb. “If Homer had been set earlier, Homer would be like it.”
“Everybody knows everybody,” said Adrienne King, who plays Mrs. Webb. “The community knows everyone around town.”
That small-town connection is part of why the Friends of the Homer Public Library chose Wilder as a Big Read author, said FHPL coordinator Mercedes Harness. Big Read is a National Endowment for the Arts program to encourage community literacy and discussion of new and classic American books. The Homer Big Read is supported by a grant from the NEA and the Homer Foundation.
“The play ‘Our Town,’ we thought it provides an opportunity for us to do an examination of what we value about our town and community,” she said.
The younger students perform some of the roles that fill out the play, like people at a wedding or younger siblings.
“It’s fun for them to experience the different roles on stage and function in the different characters,” Johnson said.
Although rehearsals might have been a bit rough earlier, the young actors have pulled it together as show time approaches. A band teacher and the DDF coach, Johnson is more used to working with teenage performers.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with this experience,” she said. “It’s nice to see the young theater world.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.