Anyone fortunate enough to be at the Columbia High School Black Box Theater last Saturday night couldn't help but walk away impressed and moved. The CHS Parnassian Society presentation of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" touched both the mind and heart.
This production of Our Town — with its final two performances this Friday and Saturday night — is directed by Steven Stubelt and produced by Janet Bustrin. The three-act play is set in small town Grover's Corners, New Hampshire in the early 20th Century. Industrialization and immigration are ramping up and the townsfolk are trying to make sense of their existence.
As almost every American high school student who has read the play in English class over the last 70 years knows, the play focuses on how people live their lives and questions whether we as "human beings ever realize life while (we) live it."
Act I takes place on a single day in May 1901. Here, we learn about the habits, personalities and peculiarities of the small town's inhabitants, with the spotlight squarely focused on the Gibbs and Webb families.
Act II, which is set three years later, hones in on the developing courtship of teens George Gibbs (Jared Mompoint) and Emily Webb (Austin Bommer), and ends with the wedding of Gibbs and Webb. Act III fast forwards nine years to 1913 and (spoiler alert!) ends with the death of Emily Webb, during the childbirth of her second child.
Our Town is known for breaking the fourth wall of theater by having the character of the Stage Manager (Seth Wolin) address the audience throughout the play. In essence, Wolin acts as the narrator moving the show along and helping to advance the storyline.
Our Town is also known for employing very little scenery, and goes light on the props. In fact much of the characters' activities, such as eating and dressing are performed in pantomime. With such a lack of ostentatiousness, the burden falls on the actors to deliver—and they do in a major way.
Wolin is a senior at CHS and a veteran of both the Parnassian and All School Musicals. He brings to his role an abundance of self-assurance and confidence. At times reflective, at times annoyed and at times erudite and philosophical, Wolin commands the audience's interest whenever he speaks.
In addition to Mompoint, who plays George, the Gibbs family features Keith Cyriaque as Dr. Gibbs, Christelle Daceus as Mrs. Gibbs and Paris Hannon as George's younger sister Rebecca. Cyriaque and Daceus were quite convincing in conveying their affection for each other as well as their commitment to do the best they could for their children.
The Webb family featured Jake Silberg as Mr. Webb, Susan Swygert as Mrs. Webb and Jacob Lazen as younger brother Wally Webb. While the Gibbs family comes across as more serious, both Silberg and Swygert were amazingly deft at honing in on the comical and whimsical elements of their characters.
Mompoint is refreshing as Gibbs. His ability to go from an immature and reticent suitor to a more mature and confident young man who is rock solid in his commitment to Emily is indicative of his acting ability and range. Mompoint on stage is extremely likable.
The role of Emily Webb is probably the meatiest in Our Town and Bommer offers a bedazzling performance. Whether questioning her mother about whether or not she is pretty, reprimanding George for his churlish behavior, coming to the realization that she is dead, or questioning the meaning of life, Bommer is spot on in her ability to grab a vise hold on the audience's attention and not let it go.
The cast of Our Town includes more than two dozen fine performances. Every character—even those with a modicum of lines or stage time—is integral in advancing the plot and fleshing out the storyline. Standouts included Grace Gifford as the entertaining and over-the-top Mrs. Soames; Howie Newsom, the town milkman played by Ben Szydlowski; and Sam Sotrop, who on Saturday night played town paperboy Joe Crowell.
Directing, design and costume decisions made by Stubelt and Bustrin also added to the authenticity of the show. One other factor that enhanced the sense of enjoyment was the use of instrumental music in key scenes. One of the pieces used—"Looking for the Gift"—was composed by Maplewood-South Orange composer and resident Mel White.
Our Town is a great advertisement for the acting, teaching and technical talent at Columbia High School and the Black Box Theater is a great venue to watch a show. If you have the chance, check it out this Friday and Saturday night.
After that, Our Town is leaving town.
Tickets for the final two performances of Our Town, this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19 and 20 at 8:00 p.m. are $12. To reserve tickets or for more information, call 973-713-6866. Tickets, if available, can be purchased at the Black Box Theatre Box Office (17 Parker Ave., Maplewood) 45 minutes before the start of each performance.