You can't go home again, but you can revisit it in different ways.
Last year Christian Barry, artistic co-director of Halifax's 2b theatre company, and his fellow creators, actors Steven McCarthy and Michelle Monteith, wowed Toronto audiences with a too-brief run of a show called Revisited. The two-person production, a shortened, hugely moving version of Thornton Wilder's Americana classic Our Town, was one of NOW's top 10 shows of 2006.
"But when we wanted to present the piece again, the Wilder estate asked us not to use any of the text," says Barry wryly. "So we returned to the idea of the show and went deeper into the project's roots. That meant looking at other American writers of the late-19th and early-20th century, writers who explored what it meant to be part of an emerging community."
The result, still called Revisited, retains Our Town's structure and spirit, though the text is now a blend of the company's own writing and that of Walt Whitman, Willa Cather and Sherwood Anderson, whose works are in the public domain.
Another major source is Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, which in fact inspired Wilder's play.
"Wilder quotes Masters directly," says the director, who's also working at the Tarragon. "Spoon River Anthology is a collection of poetry that examines life and death in a small town, notably the characters' reflections on life from the cemetery, after death, which has a clear parallel in the third act of Our Town."
Revisited breaks the traditional performer/viewer frame by having its audience of 28 sit at a large table, around and on which the action takes place. The story of small-town life, young love and its aftermath engages us in a simple, emotional, direct fashion.
That's exactly what Barry had in mind.
"I'm most interested in theatre that values the social interaction with those in the room as much as the virtuosity of the storytelling," he explains about the work, which began as his audition piece for the National Theatre School. "It's a different show every night because of the makeup of the audience and their engagement and investment in the story."
The immediacy of the performance sparks much of that magic. I remember sitting next to Monteith as she performed Revisited's last section, being part of her world in a fashion that can't be experienced in a traditional venue.
"It's really important to capture and involve a theatre audience," adds Barry, who's just finished workshopping Legacy, a new script for 2b, at Stratford. "The most successful sort of theatre invites the audience to be a vital part of the creative process, to use their imaginations to create images or story.
"That's when communion is the fullest and the audience's engagement is the strongest."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
How Revisted came to be