OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder, directed by Joseph Ziegler (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (55 Mill). In rep to March 25. $29-$54, stu $25, rush $5-$18. 416-866-8666. See Continuing Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
On the surface, Our Town is the simplest of pieces, each act an everyday episode in the life of a small New Hampshire town at the start of the 20th century. It's the kind of idyllic place where there's no need to lock the front door.
But presided over by a philosophical Stage Manager who sees past, present and future, Thornton Wilder 's American classic becomes a microcosm of life and death, alternately funny and heartbreaking. It's both a paean to and a clear-eyed look at the human condition. All of its ordinary details hint, by the end, at a great universal mystery.
Soulpepper 's inaugural show in its new home captures much of the work's warmth and tells the story in an engaging fashion, with Joseph Ziegler 's direction focused clearly on action and character. Ultimately, though, it fails to touch all the play's emotional levels.
This is a play about community, and Soulpepper's gathered some of Toronto's finest performers to tell the tale of young love, loss and continuity. There's strong work not only in the key roles but also the minor ones, such as William Webster 's soused choirmaster and Les Carlson 's cheery milkman.
The focus is on two families, the Gibbs and the Webbs, neighbours whose eldest children, George and Emily, follow a courtship path that's as predictable as it is appropriate. Jeff Lillico and Martha MacIsaac bring to life this shy, awkward duo with skill; their soda-fountain acknowledgment of mutual interest has a touching bloom.
Lillico never falters in communicating his emotions as George moves from puddle-jumping teen to tragedy-washed grown-up (it's going to be a pleasure watching this fine young actor's Soulpepper season), but in the crucial third act, MacIsaac seems to be acting a role rather than discovering Emily's new world.
As their mothers, Nancy Palk and Jane Spidell offer some of the evening's best work - Palk as the emotional romantic, Spidell as the steely protector of her brood. Their chemistry is memorable, whether they're feeding imaginary chickens or sharing household secrets while preparing beans for canning. John Jarvis brings a nice comic touch to Mr. Webb, while Oliver Dennis 's Mr. Gibbs is a solid head of the household.
The 1938 play has a postmodern touch, with the Stage Manager breaking the fourth wall, taking questions from the audience and stepping in to move the action along. Artistic director Albert Schultz has the charm to fill the role, but I'd like more heart and a bit of irony in this omniscient figure. He's someone we should like, not just respect.