By Shanti Zacariah
More than a few 20-somethings are cynics when it comes to love and relationships. So how would they react to the Ryerson Theatre School’s production of Our Town, which is a turn-of-the-century love story?
“Um, they might find it a bit cheesy,” worries Brandon McGibbon, who stars in the play as George.
But the play is more challenging than cheesy. Our Town is a sparse, touching drama about life, love and loss in a small New England town. The story centres on the life-long friendship between George and Emily and the love that develops between them.
Director Sandy Black describes the play as “deceptive.” There’s a lot going on in the hearts and minds of the small-town dwellers.
“There’s a lot that’s not spoken in my character,” says actor Vanessa Hunt, who plays George’s mom, Mrs. Gibbs. She’s happy where she is, but she is also wanting to get away, she knows there’s more of the world.”
In one scene, Mrs. Gibbs tries to tell her husband of her longing to see Paris. But she cannot be clear with him. In her confusion, Mr. Gibbs simply presses her hand and gently hushes her up.
The scene is complex interplay between husband and wife, of love, misunderstanding and desire. And all must be conveyed with a mere handful of words and face and body language.
“(It) is a difficult play to try,” Black says of the American classic. “There’s a sincerity of text and emotion which may not be true to modern day.” Wilder uses dialogue that is pared down even at high dramatic points, and the minimalist set consists only of a few tables, some chairs and two ladders.
Without props, the actors mime most of their actions, such as eating, writing and pouring tea.
With a few words and actions, the performers must tell a story full of strong emotions, and make clear the themes of life Wilder looks at.
The major turning point of the play comes when George tells Emily “I love you. I need you.” It is the point where the two friends consciously become lovers. Will the importance of the moment come across to audiences in such straight-forward, honest talk?
Despite his wondering, McGibbon is pretty confident. “I think there’s a great need for things like that to be said. As long as audiences allow themselves to follow the simplicity of the plot, the point of the play will always ring true. I mean, we still do these things—live and grow in own towns and families, have our jobs. And, we’re still falling in love.”
Our Town will be playing at the Ryerson Theatre School from October 1-10.