Life, death, love in ‘Our Town’

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Life, death, love in ‘Our Town’

Student drama members huddle during a funeral in 'Our Town.'

Student drama members huddle during a funeral in 'Our Town.'

Student drama members huddle during a funeral in 'Our Town.'

Student drama members huddle during a funeral in 'Our Town.'

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Performed with hardly any props and a minimalist set, “Our Town” studies American life in three acts: Act I, titled “Daily Life;” Act II, “Love and Marriage;” and Act III, “Death and Dying.”

The Oak Park High School drama department performed American playwright Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” Oct 12 to14. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is set over the years of 1901 to 1913 in a small, fictional New Hampshire town called Grover’s Corners.

“Our Town” walks the audience through the natural stages of everyday life, following the development of a childhood relationship turned romantic between the characters of George Gibbs and Emily Webb. The play closes with a scene of Emily visiting the dead souls of the Grover’s Corners cemetery as she herself has died in childbirth.

Thornton’s minimalist approach to theatrical design is reiterated in the opening line of Act 1: “No curtain. No scenery.” Senior Madeline Singley, who played the character of Emily Webb, said that with minimal props, it is the actor’s responsibility to be able to adapt.

“It’s all up to the actor to make the show come to life,” Singley said.

Junior Jeremy Oriss in ‘Our Town.’

English teacher Kathy Schultheis, who is currently teaching “Our Town” to her Advanced Placement junior English classes, said that giving the play life is just what Singley did in her death scene of the third act.

“When [Emily] has to return to the dead and says goodbye to Grover’s Corners, the young lady did a magnificent job with a very hard speech,” Schultheis said.

Wilder employed the art of pantomiming, or using bodily gestures to act out certain maneuvers, like cleaning dishes without actual dishes and cleaning materials, to make up for the loss of props in his play.

“The pantomime was very effective. The students went to see that we don’t need all the bells and whistles, as much as I love ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ That really set in motion the notion that a play has to have so many elaborate stage sets. ‘Our Town’ is done with almost nothing,” Schultheis said. “They left out the props deliberately because [the message] is more universal.”

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