‘Our Town’ brings dramatic opera to Harlen Adams theater

Megan Schwartz and Valdis Birznieks on top of a ladder singing to one another during the “Our Town” play. Photo credit: Alex Coba

“Our Town: An Opera in Three Acts” is the latest show to come to the Harlen Adams Theatre. Based on the play by Thornton Wilder, this production of the classic play utilized the dramatic art of opera singing to bring the story to life.

The show tells the story of an American small town called Grover’s Corners between the years of 1901 and 1913, through the citizen’s everyday life. The play itself is interesting as it has the main character in the form of the stage manager, played by Dashiell Waterbury, who interjects to address the audience directly. The stage manager even goes as far as to ask questions to the audience directly.

This aspect of the show caught the attention of audience member Madeline Olwery.

“It was really interesting how the narrator will break out of the present to talk about things that happened in the past, so it was interesting to see the jump around,” Olwery said.

The cast member used zero props, with exceptions like tables and chairs. It was quite interesting to watch a play where the cast members had to mime out different actions like opening and closing doors, eating and drinking.

The opera’s three acts consist of three different themes. The first one, daily life, is where the stage manager introduces the different characters in the play. It’s here that we meet two families, Doc Gibbs (Kevin Anderson) and Mrs.Gibbs (Raphaella Medina) and Editor Webb (David Hess) and Mrs. Webb (Christine Buckstead). Both families have children named George Gibbs (Valdis Birzniecks) and Emily Webb (Megan Schwartz) who we learn couldn’t be more different from one another.

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Megan Schwartz and Valdis Birznieks discussing school, during the play “Our Town.” Photo credit: Alex Coba

George is the captain of the high school baseball team while Emily is a studious girl who is worried that no boy will notice her. In fact, Emily has a talk with her mother about this issue and it’s here her mother delivers my favorite line of the whole play. “You’re pretty enough for all normal purposes.” This, I would have to say is the most comedic part of the play as it has the most levity in it compared to the rest of the story.

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Megan Schwartz and Valdis Birznieks on their wedding day during the play “Our Town.” Photo credit: Alex Coba

Act two is about love and marriage. It’s here where things become more serious and stressful as three years go by and Emily and George are about to get married. They reminisce on how they got here and how nervous they both are about getting married and starting a life.

The final act deals with death and eternity as nine years have passed by and we learn that Emily has died during childbirth. What follows is by far the most dramatic as it follows Emily as she joins the dead, but not yet accepting death. She askes the stage manager to take her to memory. Upon seeing it, she is overjoyed, but then quickly turns pained as she realizes how little people appreciate life. The play concludes with the stage manager wishing the audience goodnight.

The cast and crew did an amazing job bringing these characters to life, especially towards the end. You could feel the agony that Emily felt when she was seeing one of her past memories. The sadness George felt as he knelt down on his wife Emily’s grave was conveyed beautifully. Overall the play was incredibly interesting to watch and I would highly encourage anyone who has an opportunity to watch the play to take it.

Chico State School of Arts’ next production will be Mid-Century Modern, Vol. 2 on Sun. Feb. 10 at 2:00 p.m. in Zingg Recital Hall.

Alex Coba can be reached at [email protected] or @ThatOneGuyCoba on Twitter.