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The intimate Redtwist Theatre mounts a revival of Thornton Wilder’s gimlet-eyed portrait of life and death in Grover’s Corners.
It’s easy to forget just how revolutionary Thornton Wilder’s portrait of life in Grover’s Corners was in 1938. The metatheatrics Wilder employed, both here and in other plays like The Skin of Our Teeth, have become so woven into the fabric of American drama as to seem unremarkable today. But such self-referential touches as having a stage manager as a character, directing the residents of this small New Hampshire town through three acts depicting youth, marriage and death, were once shockingly fresh, and Wilder’s structure and plotting are in fact so confident and tight that Our Town can offer up something new in every production, no matter how many perfunctory high-school stagings you may have previously seen.
Redtwist’s current iteration, directed by James Fleming, bears this out: With thoughtfully inclusive casting that makes way for actors of varying ethnicities and gender identities and performers with disabilities, all dressed in modern clothing, Fleming’s charming (if necessarily somewhat cramped) staging makes the case that Wilder’s enduring themes apply to a far broader swath of humanity than you would have seen performing it 80 years ago, even if the particular concerns of our lives aren’t quite the same as those in Grover’s Corners a century ago.
Redtwist’s production also proves that Our Town’s presentational trappings help it stand up to uneven performing styles. While some of the cast (including some Redtwist regulars) put things across a bit broadly, there are standouts: Nicole Michelle Haskins (who recently wowed in The Wiz at Kokandy Productions) makes a disarming Mrs. Webb, while Richard Costes is particularly effective as the Stage Manager, using American Sign Language to add emphasis to his spoken narration. Newcomer Elena Victoria Feliz makes an equally strong impression as Emily Webb; watch her warm, nuanced take on the soda-shop scene opposite Jaq Seifert’s George Gibbs, followed by her raw emotion in Act III, and you’ll be wanting to keep an eye on her next moves, too.
Redtwist Theatre. By Thornton Wilder. Directed by James Fleming. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins; two intermissions.