Posted Date: 03/12/2019
In a decade when entertainment was increasingly spectacular, Thornton Wilder wrote a play about the ordinary routines and lives of people living in the rural town of Grover’s Corners.
John Stanley, a Chanute High School junior who plays the role of stage manager in the play that will be performed this weekend, explains why Our Town, is still relevant today.
“It’s particularly relevant because it’s written as a response to the spectacularization of entertainment” that was taking place in the 1930s, with women in big fancy dresses and lots of lights. “Wilder wanted to make a show that was based on what’s inside” a character,” Stanley said. “Today it’s become even more so, because of all the special effects and the explosions and CGI (3-D computer graphics,” he continued. There is an outward appearance of greatness, “but not enough internal development of a character.”
Wilder used a minimalist approach for his drama, with very little set and lighting and pantomime replacing props. Despite its starkness, Our Town won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1938.
As stage manager, Stanley remains on stage, sometimes talking with or introducing the characters and sometimes talking to the audience.
“I think the stage manager is mostly to give context” to the audience,” Stanley said. In his opinion, “Wilder didn’t expect the audience to catch all the subtle themes in the show” and he used the stage manager to make the message clearer.
Described by playwright Edward Albee as “the greatest play American play ever written," the story follows the Webb and Gibbs families through three acts called "Daily Life," "Love and Marriage," and "Death and Eternity."
“It focuses on the everyday and the ordinary, the routines everyone lives through and can identify with,” said Nathan Stanley, who plays George, a 16-year-old who loves baseball, falls in love, gets married and suffers loss.
“All the other roles I’ve ever played have had a mask or makeup or an important prop to my character. In this show, “I’m not relying on that prop to portray that character, I’m having to rely on my facial expression, my words and my body,” he said.
Jacob Guernsey faced similar challenges in his role as the town physician, Dr. Gibbs.
“My character is a little more serious than everything else I’ve done,” Guernsey said. Unlike his role in Newsies or playing the devil last year, he said he’s learning how to show love for someone and put forth emotion.
The lack of props was a new challenge for all the student actors.
“It’s all pantomime,” Guernsey said. “You have to learn to use your hands to show what you’re doing,” from mowing the lawn, making breakfast and going in and out a door, which proved to be particularly hard.
“Everyone does it different,” he explained, and finally the director, Chase Reed, said “We have to fix this.” The cast spent 15 to 20 minutes opening and closing a door so they would do it the same way.
With two days until opening night, John Stanley summarized, “The articulation and inflection is good. I think the emotions are coming along. “We’re almost there.”
The show will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the CHS auditorium. Tickets are $5 and may be purchased at the door, which opens at 6 p.m.
Cast members in the CHS production of Our Town, include:
John Stanley as Stage Manager, Jacob Guernsey as Dr. Gibbs, Kalyn Jones as Joe Crowell, Braiden Ayers as Howie Newsome, Breuana DuVal as Mrs. Gibbs, Alayna Inbody as Mrs. Webb, Nathan Stanley as George Gibbs, Aimee Riggs as Rebecca Gibbs, Darbee Chard as Wally Webb, Jillian Vogel as Emily Webb, Mason Vietti as Professor Willard and Joe Stoddard, Marc-Anthony Smith as Mr. Webb, Isabella Needham as woman in the balcony and woman among the dead, Mika Keenan as man in the auditorium, Kyleigh Ogle as lady in the box and baseball player, Dustin Cooney as Simon Stimson, Kaitlyn Baum as Mrs. Soames, Kaden Bash as Constable Warren, Darci Marshall as Si Crowell, Jay Brown as Sam Craig, Lynzee Caldwell as baseball player and Farmer McCarty, and John Stanley as man among the dead.