Our Town | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Our Town 

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OUR TOWN, Wing & Groove Theatre. "The life of a village [measured] against the life of the stars" is Thornton Wilder's apt description of his 1938 masterwork, in which a richly detailed piece of the universe--Grover's Corners, New Hampshire--stands for the whole. Set exactly a century ago, this no-frills three-act saga of work, marriage, and death uncovers the elemental in the transient. Every big event emerges from a thousand little ones, Wilder suggests, and those are all that matter: the smell of heliotropes by moonlight, young lovers forming a future over a strawberry ice cream soda, making breakfast as a daily offering of love.

Far from sentimental, Our Town is a hard-eyed, even harsh assessment of human existence: nothing changes because everything dies. And the living can't live life and love it with equal intensity, because we lose our sense of wonder in distracting details.

More than most plays, this one is about the actors in it: they can't avoid the turning points Our Town depicts. Stephanie McCanles grounds her sturdy staging in a refreshing lack of pretention. Though everyone does well, John Roberts's unobtrusive Stage Manager is outstanding. A few problems prevent perfection: rock music next door, gimmicky gender-bending casting and the doubling to quintupling of parts, and an occasional anachronism (reversed baseball caps and portable radios don't suit 1901). But this is theater that finds the miraculous in the moment.

--Lawrence Bommer


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