, pub-8087192757053655, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 Director Jewels: Kansas City Repertory Theatre presents Our Town: September 5-28, 2014 {Review}

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kansas City Repertory Theatre presents Our Town: September 5-28, 2014 {Review}

Disclosure: I received press passes to attend this event. No compensation was received and all opinions expressed are my own. There are some (very) mild story spoilers near the end of the post - if you aren't familiar and DON'T want to know, please don't read.

Theatre changes lives, you guys. For real. 

Maybe it's a script that you're forced to read in a History of Theater class. Perhaps it is discovered when you are cast in an unlikely role and it changes who you are as a person. Or, for many of us, it might just be the first time you witness live theatre - regardless of your age - and you know that you are meant to be involved in that beautiful world. Or maybe it just so happens that you met your significant other in a theatre and every time the two of you step foot into a performing arts venue, your heart goes all aflutter again (that one's mine).

Maybe you're a stay-at-home mom like me who is out of the theatrical loop. Maybe you're reading this during a tech rehearsal at a community production and you're saying to yourself "someday I'll make it to the Great White Way!" Regardless of your circumstances - if you're longing for a beautiful theatre experience right here in Kansas City, I've found it for you.

Every once in awhile, you discover a theatrical work that stops you dead in your tracks. Our Town at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre will do just that. Somehow, I had managed to go my whole life until now without seeing or even reading this classic play by Thornton Wilder. I'm thrilled that the KC Rep chose to open their 50th Season with this piece, directed phenomenally by David Cromer.

Conversation with Our Town director, David Cromer and the Rep's artistic director, Eric Rosen,
which you can view here.
Photo Courtesy of Kansas City Repertory Theatre.

This show was a 2009 Off-Broadway sensation that ran for over 600 performances (the longest-running production of Our Town in history). Kansas City is the final engagement for this production and features seventeen local actors and actresses alongside four veterans of Cromer's earlier production.

The Spencer Theatre stage in the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center (located on the campus of UMKC) has been completely redesigned for this production. When I walked in the door for the opening night production, I did a complete double-take. I have attended shows at the Spencer many times in the past few years, and the temporary setup is so thorough that I wondered if I was in the right building! If you've been to the Rep, you may be able to spot the changes in the photo above. If you haven't - basically, a new performing space has been constructed on top of the seats in the Spencer Theatre.

The new design allows for the very simplistic set design of Our Town to come to life in a whole new way: the actors move in and through the audience members as if they themselves are part of the town and the set.

Stephanie Rae Roberts as Mrs. Gibbs
Photo Courtesy of Kansas City Repertory Theatre.

Having never seen or read the play before, I wasn't sure what to expect from this famous piece. To say that I was blown away was an understatement. Andrew (my hubby) warned me that I would cry, but I neglected to bring any tissues into the building with me. Big mistake on my part - if you heard me sniffling during Act III, please don't hold it against me.

Our Town is designed to be a show performed with a minimal set. The costumes in this production are even quite minimalistic - though the story takes place in 1901, the characters all wore modern dress with hints as to what their attire would have looked like if they were historically costumed. For example: Rebecca Gibbs (played by Mariem Diaz) wears a blue gingham shirt in Act I, when her "blue gingham dress" is specifically referenced. The lack of distracting set pieces, costumes, and props as played out in this starkly-lit space allow the audience to place their focus completely on the characters as their stories develop throughout the play.

The overhead lights were on throughout the show - dimming as necessary to illustrate night-time, but never completely extinguished (with one exception in Act III). The audience is truly a part of the Our Town experience because they are never "left in the dark" to watch the action. Props to the entire cast - I know from experience that it is sometimes easy to "hide" behind the stage lights to keep from breaking character. The talent displayed all around was brilliant - no one in the cast (except the Stage Manager, as directed) ever acknowledged our presence, but we were part of the story all the same.

Derrick Trumbly as George Gibbs and Craig Benton as Doc Gibbs
Photo Courtesy of Kansas City Repertory Theatre.

The story is mostly unremarkable for the first two acts. We meet the Gibbs family and the Webb family, next-door neighbors whose children George and Emily just so happen to fall in love. We witness the seemingly insignificant moments of their lives right alongside the "big" ones and come to feel like we could be part of their story - or at least, that their lives are not so very different from our own, in spite of the 113 years that separate us in time.

The above video, courtesy of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, features one of those "insignificant" moments for George and Emily - though as the story unfolds, we learn that this was just the beginning of something much greater.

Act II concludes with the wedding of George Gibbs and Emily Webb, and left me wondering what Act III could entail, since the "typical" happy ending had just played out before our eyes.

Jeff Still as Stage Manager, Linsey Page Morton as Emily Webb,
and Derrick Trumbly as George Gibbs
Photo Courtesy of Kansas City Repertory Theatre.

I'm sure that there are some of you out there who - like me - are not familiar with this story. I went in blind to what the evening entailed and was blown away. I don't want to give away any critical details, so forgive me for being somewhat vague and cryptic from here on out.

Act III is when the entire piece comes together in a way that cannot be missed. Those small moments are revealed to have been so much more, and the audience can't help but be drawn in as they realize that this applies not only to this entertaining piece of theatre they have been watching, but to their very own (seemingly insignificant) lives, as well. This was the first production of Our Town that I have been blessed to witness, but I cannot imagine a cast doing a better job of bringing to life the feelings of love and loss that abounded in this final act of the production. Most of the audience was weeping during Emily's (Linsey Page Morton) pivotal monologue, and my tears continued right on through curtain call.

The stark contrast of the "flashback" to an earlier time in Emily's life is so very well-done. While the full play has utilized the minimalistic, bare stage to this point, there is a reveal of a fully-operational 1900's kitchen with period-accurate costuming and details (including a working water pump) for a brief moment. In light of the message Emily portrays to the audience, the contrast is unbelievably raw for the audience. This piece of design literally imitates the message that she wants so desperately to get across to those of us who are watching: it is not the things or the places that matter so much, but the people - and how easy it is to ignore them when there are many other distractions floating around in our heads.

Me & Hubby, enjoying a kid-free evening.

We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. 

The above text is a quote from the final moments of the play. I include it now because - for me - it was all too real.

In 1901, there were plenty of distractions that kept people from paying attention to each other. Things like milking cows, snapping dozens of green beans to put up for the winter, and running down to the drugstore for a strawberry phosphate have faded into history for most of us. But we have a wealth of other things to pull our attention from those that we love.  

TV shows and soccer practice. 
Getting everyone a reasonable breakfast before pushing them out the door for work and school. 
Volunteering for a good cause. 
And, of course, our beloved iPhones.

My heart was certainly challenged by this production - because it reminds us that life is uncertain and you don't know how much time you have to spend with those you love. I don't want my children to remember me as the face constantly buried in a laptop or phone screen. Moms, look at your kids. Wives, look at your husbands. Don't let a day pass by where you don't tell your family - out loud - that you love them.

It seems like a small thing. But really - in the grand scheme - it might be the biggest moment of them all. 

I highly, highly recommend this production of Our Town and strongly recommend that if you're in Kansas City, you find time before September 28 to make your way to the redesigned Spencer Theatre and take a trip to Grover's Corners yourself. I think you will be glad that you did. You can find more info or purchase tickets at Kansas City Repertory Theatre or follow along for more info on Our Town and the rest of the 50th Anniversary Season on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Pinterest.

Thanks to KC Rep for providing my tickets to the show. I received no other compensation and all views expressed are my own. For more information, you can read my Disclosure Policy.

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