“Our Town” hits the heart

Schoolcraft Theatre Department delivers emotional performance

BY DONOVAN SHEEHAN 
CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR 

It’s a quiet little town, but it’s a town packed full of emotion, meaning and grade-A actors. It’s a play that will make you feel things in compartments of your heart that you forgot existed. The Schoolcraft College Theatre’s production of “Our Town,” which premiered on Oct. 23, will continue to show throughout the first half of November. It is a powerful look at the life, times and loves of a rural community that was expertly executed by its director, Professor James Hartman.

IMAGES BY JAKE MULKA | PHOTO EDITOR & ALEC ADAMIC | PHOTO INTERN Above: The Webb family pantomiming their breakfast. From left to right: Ana Cale (Mrs. Webb), Keri Tapella (Emily), Aidan Butler (Wally).

IMAGES BY JAKE MULKA | PHOTO EDITOR & ALEC ADAMIC | PHOTO INTERN
Above: The Webb family pantomiming their breakfast. From left to right:
Ana Cale (Mrs. Webb), Keri Tapella (Emily), Aidan Butler (Wally).

“It made me think about life, and the meaning of life, the meaning of relationships,” said Hartman, speaking about his decision to produce the play. “Sometimes we get caught up in things that are not that important—and caught up to the point that people get destructive with their lives and forget about the really basic and most important things.”

“Our Town” was written in the 1930s by Thornton Wilder, who envisioned the play as a rebellion against the theatrical trends of the time. Instead of relying on large, elaborate sets and long catalogues of props, Wilder thought theatre should depend on the talent of the actors themselves and the power of the lines they spoke. While Schoolcraft’s production of the play does use more of a set than Wilder’s original did—the Liberal Arts Theatre has the exterior of a building built into the back of the stage, complete with doors, stairs and railings, and Hartman includes it in the performance—Wilder’s vision can still be seen in the minimal use of props and the focus on acting, not scenery.

The place where the production really shines is in its actors, who play their parts with passion and plausibility. The interactions and relationships between characters—and the chemistry between the actors cast in those roles—is beautiful to watch. Most beautiful of all is the awkwardness; not the awkwardness of missed lines, but the natural uncertainty of heartfelt connections, whether it’s the nervous affection of high school sweethearts or the sudden, panicked doubts of a bride and groom on their wedding day. The actors bring a truthfulness to their roles that, just as Wilder intended, is the soul of the show.

The Gibbs family, sharing an early morning laugh. Left to right: Gina Couyoumjian (Rebecca), John Mullen (George), Melissa Benglian (Mrs. Gibbs).

The Gibbs family, sharing an early morning laugh. Left to right: Gina
Couyoumjian (Rebecca), John Mullen (George), Melissa Benglian (Mrs.
Gibbs).

John Mullen, who played George Gibbs, gave a stellar performance in what was his first show at Schoolcraft.

“I like the range of emotions he has to go through,” said Mullen about his character, whose role in the story evolves from son, to groom, to father. “I try to portray him as a happy-go-lucky guy. He’s not really concerned with things in the future, he’s concerned with being young.”

“Our Town” is not a flashy play, and admittedly, it does start off slow. The show’s strength is how it pulls in the audience, too gradually to be noticed right away, building up a connection with the characters, the plot and the town of Grover’s Corners itself. What starts as a simple overview of some tiny, backwards New Hampshire town turns into a moving story of love and loss, with even minor characters causing a deep emotional impact.

“I think it changed a lot of the cast members—as cheesy as that sounds,” said Ellen Gabelmann who played the Undertaker and managed the cast’s makeup. “I think people learned a lot from it, and it’s cool to see everyone grow together.”

While Hartman mostly keeps with tradition, there are some noticeable directorial changes. Instead of the original three acts, the play is condensed into two, in order to reduce interruptions in the plot. The Schoolcraft production is also more modern in some aspects, such as the casting of female actors as the town’s professor and undertaker—parts that in the original 30s production would have been invariably male. There are also a few added comments about issues like equality and social justices, which help smooth the modern audience’s transition into the old fashioned, conservatively minded town.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 8.05.25 PMDespite the antiquated setting, the sometimes slow-moving plot and the general lack of props, “Our Town” is able to strike a deep, heart-quivering bond with almost any audience, and leave that audience with an aftershock of ideas and questions about their own lives.

“I didn’t want people just to see a play,” said Hartman. “I wanted them to hear it and listen to what was being said, so that they went away feeling good about their own lives or thinking about what they can do to make their lives better.”

“Our Town” is still showing, and if you’re looking for a night out to resurrect dead emotions, tickets can be purchased at the Schoolcraft Bookstore, or by phone at 734-462-4596.