The Cary Players, a promising new community theater established in 2001 by producer Dan Martschenko and director Herman LeVern Jones, came of age Jan. 15-18 with a charming production of Our Town staged in the beautiful, state-of-the-art theater of Green Hope High School in Morrisville, NC. This masterpiece of Modern Drama by award-winning American playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the recent Cary Players production — sensitively staged by director Herman LeVern Jones — exploited the strengths of Wilder's deceptively simple script to the fullest.
Each of Our Town's three acts takes place on a single day in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. The play starts in 1901 and ends in 1913. Wilder's ostensible subject is the highs and lows of life in a typical American small town at the turn of the century. But the truths that the award-winning playwright reveals are eternal.
Set and lighting designer Neil Williamson, costume designer Margo Schuler, and sound designer Betsy Stables provided strong support to Jones in creating simple, well-lit, minimally furnished playing areas; handsome period costumes; and a complementary soundscape.
Tracy Fulghum is terrific as the all-knowing Stage Manager who narrates this poignant cavalcade of small-town life at the start of the American Century, and occasionally steps into scenes to play a druggist or some other important cameo role.
Besides the Stage Manager, the play's principal characters are two typical middle-class couples and their children. Dr. Frank and Julia Gibbs (Jack Chapman and Debra Grannan/Janis Coville) never take a day off, except to tramp the hallowed Civil War battlefields that Dr. Gibbs loves, and Grover's Corners Sentinel Editor Charles and Myrtle Webb (Wilson Pietzsch and Carolyn Wallace) serve as a sort of community conscience — in the editorial pages, at least.
Their beautiful bright-eyed first-born children — George Gibbs (Jeff Maxwell) and Emily Webb (Melissa Maxwell/Lauren Pearce) — grow up side-by-side, fall in love, and marry. The unexpected turn of events that keeps young couple from living happily ever after is what makes Our Town a great play that easily could take place in 2003.
In the Saturday matinee performance that I saw, Jack Chapman and Janis Coville were good as the crusty physician and his frustrated wife, whose dreams of taking a REAL vacation are always squelched. Wilson Pietzsch and Carolyn Wallace were even better as the soft-spoken newspaper editor and his busy, busy, busy wife.
Jeff Maxwell and Lauren Pearce made a handsome young couple as George and Emily, Justin Martschenko was good as paperboy Joe (and later Si) Crowell, and Dan Martschenko made the most of his brief appearances as Howie Newsome, the hard-working milkman. Bob Jeter and Mark Anderson contributed nice cameos as undertaker Joe Stoddard (a role Jeter shared with Gene Melchior) and Emily's cousin Sam Craig, respectively.
Kurt Benrud was good as Professor Willard, the town academic (a role that director Herman LeVern Jones played with brio in last year's PlayMakers Repertory Company production of Our Town); and Steve Whetzel provided some comic relief as the town drunk: the amorous and visibly intoxicated choirmaster Simon Stimson, who drowns his secret sorrows in oceans of alcohol.