• Theater Review: Venerable ‘Our Town’ a mixed success
    By Jim Lowe
     | April 13,2014
    Jim Lowe / Staff photo

    George Gibbs (Ryan Halsaver) and Emily Webb (Katelyn Manfre) sip ice cream sodas in the Lost Nation Theater production of “Our Town.”

    Thornton Wilder’s 1938 drama “Our Town” is an American theater icon, celebrating the humanity of small-town rural life. Lost Nation Theater opened a production Friday at Montpelier City Hall Arts Center that, despite some weak casting, proved quite charming.

    Set in the fictitious Grover’s Corners, N.H., “Our Town” follows two families, guided by the omnipresent narrator. Charles Webb is the editor of the local newspaper and Frank Gibbs is the town doctor. Their progeny Emily Webb and Frank Gibbs are the love interest and the focus of the play.

    Act I introduces Emily and George as high school students discovering young love; Act II, three years later, begins with the young couple’s wedding; and Act III, after 10 years, concerns itself with death. Stories around the couple abound throughout as the narrator offers frank commentary.

    What gives “Our Town” its power is its revelation that deep beauty lies in the humanity of ordinary day-to-day life. Lost Nation Theater’s production, directed by Kim Bent, the company’s founder, proved most successful in the core families, but was less so in the surrounding characters.

    Michael Manion delivered a stellar performance as Charles Webb, giving real dimension as a father and concerned citizen. Mark Roberts also gave a rich performance as Dr. Gibbs, convincing in both warm and troubled sides.

    Katelyn Manfre nearly stole the show as Emily, giving subtle dimension, taking her from teen to mother and beyond. Ryan Halsaver as George, despite some stiffness, was a perfect foil for Manfre’s Emily.

    Bent himself was the narrator in a good paternal style. Taryn Noelle and Kathy Manfre gave sympathetic and convincing performances as the mothers, Julia Gibbs and Emily Webb.

    The core actors proved successful, offering wit, charm and even deeply moving scenes. However, each time an unconvincing character took the fore — and there were several —– the emotional line was broken. (Children and adolescents can never play adults convincingly.) The support cast had the feel and look of community rather than professional theater.

    The production had some nice amenities, including incidental music played on piano by Daniel Bruce, from Copland to Debussy; an imaginative backdrop by Donna Stafford; attractive and appropriate costumes by Cora Fauser; and dramatic lighting by Wendy Stephens.

    “Our Town,” despite its age, remains a monument to small-town life.

    Lost Nation Theater

    Lost Nation Theater presents Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” April 10-27 at City Hall Arts Center, 39 Main St. in Montpelier. Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays (except 2 p.m. April 27); 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $30, $25 Thursdays, $10 for 11 and younger; call 229-0492 or go online to www.lostnationtheater.org.

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