Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 3:05 am | Overcast 65º


Review: Local Actors Add Hometown Feel to ‘Our Town’

Santa Barbara Theatre's production boasts solid performances all around

Not only did the Santa Barbara Theatre bring together a wonderful cast of local actors for its production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at the Lobero Theatre, but Director John Blondell showed us what they can do.

Working with a few of his regular Lit Moon Theatre Company actors and many more, Blondell helped them bring out a depth in each of their characters that showed texture and richness.

A weak actor in the role of Stage Manager — the cornerstone of the play — could have put the whole production on shaky ground, but Irwin Appel was a solid, comforting presence as both tour guide and commentator on the dynamics of the small New England town of Grover’s Corners at the opening of the 20th century.

Stan Hoffman, of Lit Moon, and E. Bonnie Lewis as Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs conveyed the propriety of the times, but with an undercurrent of warmth and humanity. Their son, George, played by Mitchell McLean Thomas, seemed tentative at times, but often found his footing and brought great heart to the role.

Brian Harwell and Laurel Lyle were Mr. & Mrs. Webb, parents of George’s love interest, Emily. Lyle gave a subtle and layered performance, with the loving mother always threatening to shine through the façade of dutiful wife and housekeeper. Harwell especially brought out the compassion of Mr. Webb, so often buckled under his professional demeanor, in a scene with George on the morning of his wedding day.

Article Image
George and Emily at the soda fountain. (David Bazemore photo)

Sarah Dammann Thomas, as Emily, showed glimmers of the insecurity in her character, though most of the time Emily was quite sure of herself. By the third act, when she is taking her place in the cemetery, Emily has grown up and experienced pain and love and loss, and Thomas reflected this maturity well.

To be commended are Gavin Gaitan, for his tight delivery of newspapers and lines, and Anna Joy Lieberman, as Mrs. Soames. Her verging-on-hysterical commentary at George and Emily’s wedding was one of the high points of the show.

Anthony Kortick was comical as Professor Willard, eager to regale the audience with little-known facts about the geology and prehistory of the region. James Connolly, regular musician and performer with Lit Moon, took an interesting turn as the drunken choir director. His late-night shambling run-in with two other men of the town was not played for laughs but for aching empathy.

Our Town continues this weekend, at 8 p.m. Friday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. With three acts and two intermissions, it did make for a long, leisurely evening at the theater. But last Friday night, it didn’t fail to keep the nearly full house engaged and enjoying their time in Grover’s Corners.

Maybe it’s not so different from our town as we think. Squinting just a little, I could almost make out the Mission in the distance.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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