Last night I was in the audience for the Phoenix Theatre's production of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town. Having more than a passing familiarity with the play, and even having been involved in a production of it many years ago, I entered the theatre last night knowing that I ran the risk of being overly critical of what I was about to witness.
And I guess that was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The play focuses on a narrator as he strolls the stage talking about life as it plays out across the little community of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. It is minimalist both in scope as well as set, leaving a great deal of latitude to each director and acting company that tackles the work. Each production is always distinctive.
But the Phoenix production was jarringly distinctive, particularly Act One. The cast came forward and did a couple of group songs, inviting the audience to sing-along. The first song out of the chute was "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain when She Comes." Seriously. The lady next to me sang along. I groaned along.
(I was reminded of a high school production of Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick that I directed several decades ago. The choir teacher wanted her students to have a part in the play, so in one opportune hotel scene we had the choir show up in the piano bar singing "In the Mood," and it was so much better than "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes!")
The couple in front of us left after the first act and didn't return.
Act Two, with its focus on love and marriage, elevated itself to standard Thornton Wilder fare. And Act Three, the funeral and cemetery scene, the gut punch of the play, did not disappoint - but overall, this production sadly did.