‘Our Town’ never lets you know its residents

The reason I felt Las Vegas Academy’s "Our Town" doesn’t work wasn’t apparent until the third act.

Thornton Wilder’s great play plants us in small-town Grover’s Corners, N.H., in 1901. Wilder makes sure we remember at all times that we are watching a production. The performing area is near-bare, a stage manager calls the actors and addresses the audience to give plot summaries. We meet some lovable souls, but no one seems totally trouble-free. Though the feeling is wholesome and nostalgic – with two naive young characters (George and Emily) slowly falling in love – it’s always three-dimensional.

The second act takes place years later, with George and Emily’s wedding. The third act reacquaints us with some of the characters now residing in the beyond.

Some people over-respect Wilder’s classic and turn it into a too-somber look at a world where little seems to happen. Others sentimentalize it into dreck. Director Melissa Lilly keeps the first two acts bouncing along, and I appreciated that she and the cast were having fun with the material. Some of the characters were played as shtick, and it seemed OK since the script keeps reminding us we’re watching actors.

But in the third act, when one character grows hungry for home and revisits the past as a ghost – all the while bemoaning the lack of appreciation everyone seems to have had for what was good in their existence – the production suddenly goes flat. And for a very simple reason: We haven’t gotten to know the people of Grover’s Corners well enough to understand the character’s regret. Too many of the residents are merely cartoons.

Kyle Ivey, as our moderator/stage manager, doesn’t have a rapport with the audience. He’s stiff and memorized. But Ellory Courvoisier, Elliot Shields and Sarah Shelton, as three of the parents, suggest age, depth and genuine emotion.

The show is easy to watch. I admired the talent. But this "Our Town" isn’t really about any town.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheater chat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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