MUSKEGON — Beginning this Valentine’s Day, Muskegon Civic Theatre’s 35th-anniversary celebration will take Muskegon County’s only community theatre company to where it has never been: Grover’s Corners, N.H.
For the first time in its history, MCT will stage a classic, American playwright Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Our Town.” The show will run Feb. 14-29 at the 169-seat Beardsley Theater in downtown Muskegon.
First performed in 1938, “Our Town” has been called, by no less than the revered playwright Edward Albee, “ … probably the finest play ever written by an American.” The New York Times has called it “ … an immortal take of small town morality” and “a classic of soft spoken theater.” Once wrote The New York Daily News, “No American play describes more powerfully how we imagine ourselves.”
“Our Town” is one of the most performed plays not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world.
For all that, MCT, which was founded in 1985 as a merger between three local theatre groups, until now has not presented “Our Town.” When selecting the group’s current season, MCT officials reasoned that, because 2019-2020 would be a significant anniversary not only for MCT but also the City of Muskegon (150 years), an American theatre institution such as “Our Town” should be part of the lineup.
According to MCT President Carol Moore, “Our Town” is a play in which audiences recognize themselves.
“‘Our Town’ is a timeless show that holds a mirror up to who we are and how we want to live,” Moore says in her statement for the playbill. “The setting is Grover’s Corners, N.H., in 1901, but it could just as easily be Muskegon, Mich. in 2020.”
Such parallel has long been an allure of “Our Town.” Although set in a fictional New Hampshire hamlet, its characters and story make “Our Town” any town.
Meandering through the years 1901-1913, the play is told in three acts representative of human existence: “Daily Life,” “Love and Marriage” and “Death and Eternity.”
Per the recommendations of Wilder himself, “Our Town” is presented as simplicity itself. It is performed as a play within a play, set in the theater in which it is being performed. “Our Town” tells its story without a curtain or scenery, basically on a bare stage. Most of the props are mimed by performers. The play’s central character, named simply the Stage Manager, narrates the proceedings, introducing the characters and their relationships.
MCT’s “Our Town” is a mix of the old and new. Although some of the cast members are theatre veterans, the show features the MCT debuts of nine actors.
The cast includes Joe Carmolli as the Stage Manager, Scott Murphy as Dr. Gibbs, Keegan Colcleasure as Joe Crowell Jr., Dustin Day as Howie Newsome, Diane Van Wesep as Mrs. Gibbs, Cynthia Bates Twining as Mrs. Webb, Andrew Hayes as George Gibbs, Taylor DePouw as Rebecca Gibbs, Cole Redinger as Wally Webb, Emily Mann as Emily Webb, Walter Mrotz as Prof. Willard, Chris Briggs as Mr. Webb, Reuben Crosby as Simon Stimson, Michelle May as Mrs. Soames, Tyler Bazzett as Constable Warren, Paul White as Si Crowell, Tom Klonowski as Sam Craig, and Carter Milan as Joe Stoddard. Playing citizens of Grover’s Corners are Ellen Pallasch, Ashley Poling, Tiffany Bartlett, Julie Brattan, Martha Kallenbach, Emily Kindervater, Katie McCool, Katie Trusty and Brianna White.
Now, says MCT’s Moore, comes the magic of shared experience, intimacy and common reality.
“We hope the characters and story speak to you as we travel through time and
three acts of the show,” she says. “Theatre can create a sacred space where humans develop understanding and empathy for each other by walking in another’s shoes for a couple of hours.”
Performances will be 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14, 15, 20-22 and 27-29, and 3 p.m. Feb. 16 and 23.. Tickets are $26.50. They may be purchased through the Frauenthal Center box office. The box office is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and one hour before performances. To purchase by phone, call 1-800-585-3737.