No matter what else I say in this review, first and foremost I recognize the excellence of this production of Our Town, which is a joint venture of the Pasadena Playhouse and Deaf West Theatre West. And because of that successful collaboration, it’s performed in both spoken English and American Sign Language, which is fascinating to watch.
But I’m just going to come out and say it: I do not get the adoration of Our Town, in general. I know that many people think the same thing, (because they’ve admitted as much in private,) but it’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes to me—no one wants to appear not smart enough to love this classic play. But, even with my 147IQ, and having lived a lifetime of more culture than most people can even begin to imagine, and with my parents being high school Speech and English teachers, (which means they both taught this play forever,) I still don’t get the attraction of it. I was hoping that, once I saw it performed, I would, but no luck. I tried to stay engaged, but the story is honestly a bore and a half.
So, I have to separate this production from the actual 1938 play by Thornton Wilder. You know what I think of the play itself, so now here’s my review of this actual production at the Pasadena Playhouse.
It’s performed as written, and in the same manner that it has always been done on stage. Which means you need great concentration because there are no good visuals, (unless you’re a fan of chairs and ladders and floor-length ecru and gray dresses,) it’s super-long and drawn-out, (there are three acts totaling about three hours, with an end that makes no sense) and very old-fashioned, (it takes place between 1901 and 1913. Oysh.) And just to make it even longer, they announce some cast members at the beginning! But, I think that’s also written into the script. [Note: Upon reading this review, my proofreader told me that she’s never seen the play, but saw the old movie version of Our Town and “loved it!” She added, “It is an old-fashioned and kind-of boring story, but I’m an old-fashioned boring person!” So, as with just about everything in life, this is a case of different strokes for different folks. I just wanted to give you another opinion here.]
Having speaking and signing actors is a gargantuan undertaking, which I admire. I cannot even imagine what rehearsals must have been like! But I had a bit of mixed feelings seeing it this way. I definitely appreciate deaf theater, and I find sign language beautiful, graceful, and intriguing, but because of my brain issues, it’s hard for me to follow so much movement at one time. And I couldn’t figure out who to watch—the speaker or the signer. They also kept changing actors to play some of the same characters, mainly the Narrator, who is the central character, so it was all a bit confusing.
But every single actor in this production is excellent. Some speak, some sign, and many do both! I’m amazed that there are so many good hearing actors who can also sign! Some of them appear to have just learned ASL for this production, but still, it’s all most impressive. I applaud them all for that. Their effort is mind-boggling!
And it struck me how entertaining and humorous the non-hearing actors are in their parts; they can’t hear the hearty laughter that permeated the opening night audience for much of the first two acts, yet their timing, especially with facial expressions and physicality, is spot-on! Wow.
I enjoyed them all, but especially Harold Foxx, who, as the milkman, conveys more with his face than many actors do with his or her voice! I just wish that he had a bigger part in this show. I could not take my eyes off him.
The entire cast stays on stage the whole time, even when not participating in the action, which is a staging device I dislike in any show; I personally get distracted by it because I keep thinking of how I would hate doing that. (And have!) It made me wonder if the original Our Town is the one that started it, which would make sense.
On a side note, this is really all I knew about Our Town prior to this opening night: When I was a kid, and my sister was in high school, she asked me to help her rehearse a monologue from it for a class. She was playing the deceased girl who was begging her mother (played by yours truly in rehearsal) to look at her, but the mother, of course, did not know the girl was there, so she just went about her business, with her back to her daughter for the scene. But me being me, even back then, every time my sister would plead, “Mama, look at me!,” I would turn around and make faces. Charming, I know. (Shocking that we don’t speak now, isn’t it?)
I can’t for the life of me figure out why any theatre would produce this oh-so-old-fashioned, ultra-long play at this time, especially with so many creative works just begging for exposure. My friend posited that perhaps it was somehow connected to the Playhouse’s hundredth anniversary, but I don’t think so. And I would not get it even then! I don’t know what the play is trying to show us other than people live and die. Duh.
Overall, though, I’m grateful that I finally saw this classic play. Even though it did not get to me, at all, I feel that every student of theatre needs to see it once, even just to know what it is.
Lastly, on a super side note, I noticed that Pasadena Playhouse recently overhauled their website, making it pretty stark-looking. I’m always a fan of simplicity, (as you can maybe tell with the design of this e-zine,) but their pared-down site just looks somewhat sad to me. But worse than the site is that they did something new with their programs, as well, which I hope they change back soon. First of all, the print in the actors’ credits is so small, it resembles the bottom line of an eye test! Even more inconvenient is that they put all the actors’ pictures on one page, and not right next to each bio. This way, if you want to know really Who’s Who, you have to keep referring back to that one page, which I doubt most people will be as dedicated as I am to do. And those pix are not even in alphabetical order!!! Who has the time to go digging for the info?! It’s a disservice to the actors as well as to the audience members. Just sayin’.
Our Town running on through October 22, 2017
Pasadena Playhouse 39 South El Molino Avenue Pasadena 626-356-7529 www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org