Theater review

'Our Town' production underscores universality of the play

CorrespondentSeptember 5, 2013 

The Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern production of "Our Town" will play Sept. 4-21, 2013, at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham.

COURTESY OF ALEX MANESS

  • Details

    What: “Our Town” presented by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern

    Where: Trotter Building, 410 W. Geer St., Durham

    When: 8 p.m. Sept. 5-7, 11-14 and 18-21

    Tickets: $10-$15

    Info: 919-452-2304 or http://littlegreenpig.com

Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern is known for staging intriguing and often radical revisions of established works. Its current production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” stays closer to the original than usual, but its all-black cast and imaginative theatrical touches make the production a viable alternative version.

Most everyone has been exposed to “Our Town,” the perennial favorite of high schools and community theaters. Wilder’s seemingly innocent look at average families in the twentieth century’s first decade ultimately reveals universal truths about life, death and mankind’s purpose.

The play’s locale is usually New England, but with some excisions of geographic references, the setting here becomes any small town, where the milkman comes every morning, kids walk to school and churches have choir practice.

The production is mostly straightforward, with little attempt to make it specifically African-American, the gospel-tinged hymns and ragtime-like opening the rare nod in that direction. But having black actors in the roles emphasizes the play’s universality, especially with director Jaybird O’Berski’s encouragement of more robust, wide-ranging characterizations than the script’s usual New Englander reserve.

Lakeisha Coffey’s Mrs. Webb and Kyma Lassiter’s Mrs. Gibbs are fully rounded, moving characters, while Thaddaeus Edwards’ Mr. Webb and Trevor Johnson’s Mr. Gibbs are adequate, both actors more impressive in their additional character roles. Aurelia Belfield gives Emily Webb an amusing, slightly ditzy interpretation, more a 1950’s teenager, and J. Alphonse Nicholson is warmly sincere and respectful as Emily’s boyfriend, George Gibbs.

Jade Arnold, Jennifer Blocker and Carly Prentis Jones provide nicely differentiated cameos and make lively work of sharing the role of the Narrator/Stage Manager. Ashley Diane Long fills in addition small roles.

The production is in the round, the audience in a single row around the playing space’s perimeter. Actors constantly shift positions to accommodate the setup but inevitably obscure some key lines in the process.

There are no set pieces save a few benches and the props hung along the walls. Costuming is minimal, merely hinting at the period. O’Berski stages minor scenes (paper boy’s rounds, policeman’s patrol) behind the audience, more to be heard than seen. Arresting lighting effects illuminate the graveyard scene.

Fans of Little Green Pig may find this production less offbeat than usual, but it’s perfect for first-timers to experience the company’s particular theatrical approach.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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