Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" is one of the more enduring American plays, for the very good reason that it doesn't mirror real life but becomes a symbol for reality. The world Wilder creates never existed, in spite of anyone who insists that there ever was such a thing as "the good old days."
It would be hard to find a better staging of Wilder's classic than this one conceived by A Noise Within at Glendale Masonic Temple. The poetic richness and human wisdom of Wilder's writing reverberate within the simplicity of his chosen form, which introduced American theater to the wonders of what can happen when the "fourth wall" is broken down.
The play doesn't date, even though it describes events in a small New Hampshire town just after the turn of the century. Like Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood," the ideas in the play are timeless and universal.
"Our Town" is Grovers Corners, seeing its first few automobiles, just beginning to become aware that there is a big world outside of town and still leaving its front doors unlocked. The townspeople have heard about burglars but haven't seen any yet. They, particularly the Gibbs and Webb families, haven't yet gone through a series of horrific wars and a chain reaction of social upheaval. They're comfortable in their microcosm, unaware that--like the old South--it will soon be gone with the wind.
Co-directors Julia Rodriguez Elliott and Geoff Elliott keep the play's three sections--a typical day, love and marriage, and death--deeply burnished like old snapshots, as they move through the chiaroscuro of David M. Darwin's masterly lighting. Susan Doepner's authentic period costumes look genuine, and dialect coach Nike Doukas places the characters squarely Down East.
The company is extraordinary. Donald Sage Mackay seamlessly and easily ricochets from pre-teen to teen to adult as George, the young man who sees no future except to marry his Emily and settle on a local farm. Hisa Takakuwa's Emily is just as affecting. They're especially touching in the famous soda fountain scene.
Emily Heebner and Michael Keys Hall as George's parents, and Anna Miller and Robert Pescovitz as Emily's, couldn't be more on target. With Mackay and Takakuwa, they find humor in moments that are often glossed over. Jack L. Harrell's organist Simon Stimson is notable for the subtlety of his inebriation during a late-night stagger, and Matt Foyer's milkman Howie Newsome becomes a notable vignette.
Leading the cast is Deborah Strang as the Stage Manager, a role usually played by a man. It's a wonderfully inventive choice, and Strang, with just the faintest hint of wisdom from a later day, pulls it off with great panache.
* "Our Town," Glendale Masonic Temple, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Saturday, April 16 and 23, May 6, 8 p.m.; April 18, 2 p.m.; April 24, May 8 and 15, 9 p.m.; May 1, 4 p.m.; May 2, 7 p.m. Ends May 15. $14; (818) 546-1924. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.