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Vancouver's 'Our Town' Puts Audience In The Action

10/06/2014 06:14 EDT | Updated 12/06/2014 05:59 EST

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Bob Frazer as the Stage Manager.

In the third act of "Our Town," the new production by Vancouver's Osimous Theatre, Lauren Jackson (as Emily) delivers a beautiful speech so well that it may move you to tears.

She is bidding farewell to the simple pleasures of life: "Good-bye, good-bye, world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners. Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths and sleeping and waking up."

Jackson's performance is only one of the outstanding elements of this excellent production.

Written by the U.S.'s Thorton Wilder in 1938, "Our Town" does not feel dated. It is a thoughtful portrayal of ordinary life in the fictional small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire.

It's a town where kids study and play baseball, adults deliver babies and sing in the church choir, and teenage sweethearts plan marriage. The specific focus on a few ordinary lives is what makes the story timeless and universal. People today are pretty much the same as they were when the play premiered.

Osimous has chosen an environmental set. That means the large reception hall of a Vancouver church has been filled with sofas and easy chairs for the audience to sit on. This furniture surrounds the main acting space, although actors come and go through aisles between audience seats.

All actors are always present in the room, and the house lights are on throughout the performance. We are, in a sense, in a living room that surrounds the two kitchens of the main characters: the families of Doc Gibbs and Editor Webb.

The staging brings the audience into the action, though little audience participation is involved. Like the cast, we are in Grover's Corners.

Those who know the play will recall that the Stage Manager narrates the entire piece. In this version, directed by the ensemble rather than by an individual, the narration is mostly provided by the characters themselves. This adds to the production's intimacy.

As teenage Emily, Jackson is also excellent in her portrayal of the adolescent who falls in love with her friend and neighbour George Gibbs (Chris Cope). Among the play's best scenes is the one in which the two nervously reveal their love for each other. Barely adults, the two speak so awkwardly that we squirm in our seats. They are struggling to communicate and risk rejection while they hope for the start of a lifelong match.

The word "love" never comes up: it is only implied by the silences that fill the lovely scene. Cope gives us a George who has been a confident baseball player and ambitious future farmer until now. Faced with forever, Cope shows us his character's new maturity.

At the centre of the production is Bob Frazer as the Stage Manager. Though his role is much smaller than in the original script, he plays the role of a kind of ringmaster. He welcomes the audience, offers to take questions, and introduces the acts. He narrates some of the play and behaves like the friendly guide to the evening. It's an original choicem and one that works well. He is our friend, which looks easy but is actually quite difficult. The casualness is carefully rehearsed.

Dawn Petten and Quelmia Stacey Sparrow, as the two mothers, perform an outstanding mime as they simultaneously prepare breakfast for their respective families. They pump water, carefully prepare their stoves, and then lift each strip of bacon separately and place it in the pan.

Sound effects for the mime are provided by offstage actors. They create the sound of pouring water as the mothers mime pumping water, for example. The sound effects table, in full view of the audience, includes a bell and items to mimic the clip clop of a horse. The sounds are surprising, and add to the magic of this production.

As Frazer points out in his program note, environmental productions of "Our Town" are rather common these days. Perhaps, but this incarnation of the idea is likely at least as good as any of the other efforts.

"Our Town," by Thorton Wilder and directed by the performers is at the Osimous Theatre at the First Christian Reformed Church until Oct. 18. Buy tickets.