Los Angeles Theater Review: OUR TOWN (The Broad Stage in Santa Monica)

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by Tony Frankel on January 22, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE VALUE IN SIMPLICITY

The purposefully simplistic proceedings of David Cromer’s production of Our Town may seem bold and innovative to some, especially to those weaned on Broadway spectacles. Yet, the gloriously unassuming presentation now on at the Broad Stage is actually a spot-on realization of Thornton Wilder’s vision of his famous 1938 play. Indeed, the script itself urges productions to use little scenery and minimal props.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder – directed by David Cromer – at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica – Los Angeles Theater Review by Tony Frankel - photo by Iris Schneider

With ever-present flood lights hovering over the thrust stage, actors in unassuming, modern dress utilize two tables and some chairs as they move about the audience – both in the aisles and on a pathway between the first and second rows. This not only creates a stark intimacy, but effectively removes the fourth wall. Amidst the Townspeople who perform their antiquated daily rituals (the milkman, a doctor who makes house calls), we, the audience, are now in full view of each other, making us an integral part of Wilder’s town. As such, the seemingly superficial themes of love, marriage, and death resound with a deep clarity. The play, according to Wilder, “is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily lives.” Cromer eschews mawkish folksiness, concentrating instead on the way in which his performers react to each other (as with long moments of silence), ensuring that these small events do indeed reverberate.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder – directed by David Cromer – at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica – Los Angeles Theater Review by Tony Frankel - photo by Iris Schneider

While the Broad Stage was astoundingly transformed (audiences sit in bleachers on a platform perched above the permanent seats), Mr. Cromer’s profound staging does suffer somewhat by doubling the size of the space from the 199-seat Barrow Street production in New York. Now, it is presented to 375 patrons at the Broad. This creates a loss of intimacy that would have made the emotional punch of the third act much weightier and more reflective for us. This highlights a common conundrum for Los Angeles theatre: the lack of mid-size equity houses causes visiting productions to book larger, high-profile houses which, like a vacuum, suck up and interfere with the closeness of the original work (the Ahmanson and Pantages are perfect examples of this). Depending on where you sit at the Broad, actors are either unseen (only the front row can George be seen in the graveyard) or their voices were swallowed by the large space.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder – directed by David Cromer – at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica – Los Angeles Theater Review by Tony Frankel - photo by Iris Schneider

Even though Mr. Cromer was either unwilling or unable to shift the tone of the show to compensate for the larger trappings, his powerhouse of stylized simplicity is nonetheless a revelation. Long may this three-act evening be a symbol of hope to those who believe that modern audiences lack attention spans – or that they need razzle-dazzle to be wholly transfixed. This Our Town is theatre at its roots; the hushed, spellbound audience verified this.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder – directed by David Cromer – at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica – Los Angeles Theater Review by Tony Frankel - photo by Iris Schneider

photos by Iris Schneider

Our Town
The Broad Stage in Santa Monica
ends on February 12, 2012
for tickets, visit The Broad Stage

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