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Our Town, a perennially popular masterpiece of Modern Drama by award-winning American playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder (1897-1975), is the next project of the Cary Players, a new community theater established in September 2001. Company co-founder and artistic director Herman LeVern Jones will stage Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play Jan. 15-18 at the Green Hope High School Theatre in Morrisville, North Carolina.
"What I like absolutely the best about Our Town is the characters and how well crafted they are for the actor," Jones says. "This is, in my opinion, an actor's play, where the characters of Emily and George and Doc Gibbs and his wife and Mr. Webb and his wife are [superb] characters.... It is very challenging and very rewarding for me as a director."
On the surface, Our Town is a simple play that chronicles the high points and low points in a typical American small town, Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, from 1901 to 1913. The play's main characters are two representative families, Dr. Frank and Julia Gibbs (Jack Chapman and Debra Grannan) and Editor Charles and Myrtle Webb (Wilson Pietzch and Carolyn Wallace/Beverly King), whose beautiful bright-eyed children grow up side-by-side, fall in love, and marry. The fact that young George Gibbs (Jeff Maxwell) and Emily Webb (Melissa Maxwell/Lauren Pearce) do not live happily ever after, the reasons they don't, and the effects on both their families is what makes Our Town a great play, a timeless tale that could easily be transposed to 2003.
Set and lighting designer Neil Williamson, costume designer Margo Schuler, and sound designer Betsy Stables will assist Jones in staging the Cary Players production of Our Town, which also stars Tracy Fulghum as the all-knowing Stage Manager who narrates this poignant cavalcade of small-town life in turn-of-the-century America. The show also features Kurt Benrud as Professor Willard, a role that Herman LeVern Jones played with distinction in PlayMakers Repertory Company artistic director David Hammond's crowd-pleasing revisionist multiracial version of Our Town last April.
Jones says, "Working on Our Town with PlayMakers was a wonderful experience, and my first experience working on a Thornton Wilder piece."
The critically acclaimed African-American actor/director adds that Our Town "is a very powerful vision that Thornton Wilder had about everyday life. He says to us, his audience, that what seems to be mundane is very important, because we are alive and living in these moments. We don't really cherish these moments as fully as we could. I think that Wilder is showing us this part of our lives through the writing of Our Town. Every action, every thought, every emotion is very important."
In addition to co-founding the Cary Players with Dan Martschenko, Jones founded the Herman LeVern Jones Theatre Consultant Agency of Raleigh, North Carolina, a not-for-profit company that produces theatrical productions as the National Ensemble Theatre and sponsors the Southeast Raleigh School of the Arts, which Jones describes as "a training program for young aspiring actors and artists. We are trying to provide an outlet for them in the Southeast Raleigh area," he says.
Jones says, "In Our Town, Wilder asks, 'How do we grow up, and how do we relate to the most important people in our lives?' There's the milkman, there's the paperboy, there's the town drunk, there's the church choir, there's the lady who gossips. These are very important people to us.
"As an audience, our relationship to these characters mirrors our everyday relationship to the people around us," Jones adds. "I think Thornton Wilder has really put this huge mirror on stage, and as we look on stage, we see the reflection of ourselves. How do we relate to marriage? How do we relate to death?"
Jones says, "At the end of this play, Thornton Wilder even goes beyond life. He talks from beyond the grave.... I think that's the most powerful part of this play. What's said at the end of this play is that you get one shot — you get one opportunity — to live your life. Don't throw that opportunity away, live it. Submerge yourself in [the minutia of everyday life]. Enjoy it. Celebrate it."
The Cary Players present Our Town Wednesday-Friday, Jan. 15-17, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 18, at 2 and 8 p.m. in Green Hope High School Theatre, 2500 Carpenter-Upchurch Rd., Morrisville, North Carolina. $15 (group discounts available). 919/836-0866 or firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.caryplayers.org/newsite/shows.htm.