Beginning Nov. 14, the Portland State School of Theatre + Film will be presenting Our Town, a live adaptation of Thorton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1938 play of the same name.
I recently had the chance to sit down with professor and director Lorraine Bahr and the entire cast to talk about the play and what it means to take part in the creation of a classic. As the 26 cast and crew members began filling up the rehearsal space in PSU’s Lincoln Hall, a strong sense of community became immediately clear. Laughing and joking was mixed with serious discussion about the play, and each person’s commitment to bringing Wilder’s world to life was obvious. It was easy to get the sense that not only are they a group of students and actors, but more fundamentally, a community of people brought together by their love of the play.
“It really has a strong sense of community to it. It’s people coming together about something. They’re really wonderful people, and I think that rings true for the cast,” said Zachary Marsh, who plays George Gibb. “The play is timeless. I think you could go through any era and share this story and people would understand what’s going on and what it’s about and the kind of themes it brings together.”
The play tells the story of the inhabitants of the fictionalized small town of Grover’s Corners, N.H. Set in the years between 1901 and 1913, the story revolves around two families, the Gibb family and the Webb family, with specific focus on the romance and eventual marriage between the Gibb’s son George and the Webb’s daughter Emily.
Although the play will stick to tradition by using minimal sets and props, this production is adding a unique twist to this show. Each night a different PSU professor will be making a cameo in the role of Professor Willard. There is no word yet on who will be performing on which night, but many professors will be making their acting debut.
Because of its setting, it would be easy to dismiss the play as a sort of sentimentalized piece of Rockwellian Americana, but to do so would be to dismiss its nuances. Our Town is a play that deals with serious issues that affect everyone without relying on cynicism, Bahr said.
“It is possible to be a realist without being a cynic,” said Bahr. “The reality is that everyone dies and there is no reason to pretend that isn’t so.”
The central themes of the play include life’s transiency, the importance of love and friendship and appreciating every moment you have. It is a story that deals with joy and tragedy and is a reminder of brevity and the importance of making the most out of each moment, even seemingly insignificant ones. The play is a journey of human life and the beauty that can be found in the mundane if you just take the time to look.
“It is really one of those everyman, existential, really relatable in every sort of way plays,” said Cooper Blomberg, who plays Mr. Webb. “The first time we did readings I got choked up, and I got a real connection to all the characters. I felt like I know these people in life, but I feel like everyone in the room felt that way and they all have totally different lives than I do. That was kind of what was really special about that. It cuts through right to the core of what’s in people’s heads, love and death and life.”
“It’s so easy in today’s age to get caught up in everything. You have your technology, you have Facebook and you live your life through that and it moves so quickly,” said Robyn Davis, who plays Mrs. Gibb. “This play makes you realize that it moves so quickly, and you don’t want to miss those special moments: the birthday parties, the conversations you have with your loved ones. I think that’s a message that still needs to be told. It’s okay to slow down look at everything, experience everything, because you never know when it’s going to be gone.”