- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

Thornton Wilder's folksy and contemplative "Our Town," which addresses the gorgeousness of ordinary life, has been a staple of the world stage since its debut in 1938. Even though the third act takes place in a graveyard, the play offers something comforting and beautifully dignified.
Round House Theatre has made a wise move in staging "Our Town," in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is the company's first production in its new Bethesda theater.
No woman in her right mind would envy Mrs. Gibbs (Jane Beard) and Mrs. Webb (Kathryn Kelley) being up at 5:45 a.m. to prepare one of three daily meals with no modern conveniences. Still, there is something wholesomely seductive about the small town of Grover's Corners, N.H., where no one locks the doors, a friendly milkman (David Marks) delivers glass bottles of milk and cream every morning, and the town constable (Frederick Strothers) sports a billy club on his belt but seems never to have the need to use it.
Director Jerry Whiddon smartly does not impose the Norman Rockwell aspects too thickly. The production is subdued a stripped stage with a row of wooden chairs along the back wall. The Assistant Stage Manager characters (played by J.J. Kaczynski, Seth Schwartz, Jess W. Speaker III and Adrian Spencer) tote scenery on and off the stage and produce sound effects from the wings. Pat Carroll portrays the Stage Manager, who narrates the play.
Rosemary Pardee dresses the cast in costumes that represent the period without drawing too much attention to themselves. At the center of all this is Miss Carroll's character, a modestly magical figure who keeps the action going even interrupting people when she figures they have gone on long enough.
Miss Carroll commands the production from the start. Carefully choosing her movements and expressions, she stages a scene or makes an impish comment or two with the exquisite calibration and tact that comes only from a life on the stage. She is a solid delight from start to finish.
She also has plenty to do. The three-act play begins in 1901, detailing a typical day in Grover's Corners that begins with Dr. Gibbs (Marty Lodge) returning home after delivering twins and ends with young next-door neighbors Emily Webb (Megan Anderson) and George Gibbs (Andrew William Smith) staring at the moonlight from their respective windows and falling a little bit in love.
The production's biggest problem, other than the many sound problems stemming from the bare stage, is that its pace is too sleepy. The whole show seems to be in a trance.
Yet there are bright spots: Hugh Nees as a fillibuster-inclined professor who would rather talk about petroglyphs than people and John Lescault as the home-loving newspaperman Mr. Webb. Miss Anderson as the bright, yearning Emily is also a treasure. Her wide-open heart and innocence make you think of Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis."
The second act takes place three years later as recent high school grads Emily and George prepare to marry. Their upstanding, stoic mothers, played strongly by Miss Beard and Miss Kelley, have mixed emotions as they prepare the last breakfast their children will eat at home before going off on their own. There isn't a wellspring of emotion this is New Hampshire but both actresses convey their feelings without a trace of glop.
Perhaps the most famous act is the third, which takes place in 1913 at the cemetery on the hill. The wooden chairs are rows of graves, and the dead sit in quietude and patience while "waiting for the eternal part of themselves to come clean." In the meantime, they talk pleasantly about life "up there," as if contemplating it from a great distance and gently helping newcomers to the grave pull away from the life force that is so tantalizing and so precious if only those too-busy humans would realize it.
The stillness of the third act acts as a balm. When Miss Carroll tells us "Our Town" is over, there is a tiny shock. We want to linger with the people of Grover's Corners both the quick and the dead a while longer.
They seem so much at peace.

* *
WHAT: "Our Town"
WHERE: Round House Theatre, 7501 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Sundays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through June 23
TICKETS:$27 to $35
PHONE: 240/644-1100
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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