They might be the only community theatre in Washington, D.C., but St. Mark’s Players holds their own. Their current production of “Our Town,” under the direction of Sabrina McAllister, is an inspiring rendition of Thornton Wilder’s classic. It offers a unique staging experience that heightens the audience’s participation in the life of Grover’s Corners.
…a powerful interpretation of the work, mainly due to its excellent cast…is the invitation we all need to take a shared moment to slow down and actually see one another.
Rather than a proscenium, the stage is an open space in St. Mark’s nave, bordered on two sides by curving rows of chairs. The church’s darkened choir forms a third side of this theatre-in-the-round, while a lengthy curtain creates the fourth and frontmost border. Within this space, the everyday moments of the people in Grover’s Corners are realized, often within mere feet of the audience.
From my seat in the front row, I found myself a broom’s handle away from the Gibbs family table. The sense that I was intruding faded with the actors’ commitment to their characters and preserving the fourth wall, transforming instead into the freedom to spectate as much as I liked into their personal lives. This, of course, is precisely what the Stage Manager and Wilder invite audiences to do.
An additional meta-theatrical component emerged from this arrangement. Because the entire audience was so close to the action, everyone was joined together under the stage lights. This allowed the unique opportunity for every audience member to become a witness, not just of the play, but also of each other. You could see other audience members observing and responding to the townspeople’s lives. Rather than being discomforting or distracting, this element exalted the play’s themes by allowing space for a genuine community feel and reaction. If only for a moment, we all were invited to join each other, looking carefully into the lives of George and Emily—and maybe even each other—if we so dared.
The performance itself was a powerful interpretation of the work, mainly due to its excellent cast. Each actor brought such development and believability to their character that you couldn’t help but wish that each member of Grover’s Corners was the subject of their own Wilder play. While the lines could have easily become didactic, each performer carried their role so naturally that audiences were free to laugh or contemplate the humor and profundity of Wilder’s words however they struck. What was particularly impressive was the actors’ handling of the many invisible props and the sparse set pieces, all utilized and maneuvered with the kind of seamlessness that only comes through hours of rehearsal.
Tony Lemus and Allegra Hatem made a fantastic George and Emily. Both brought just the right level of charisma and consistency to their roles. They delightfully revealed the core virtues of their characters behind the changing physicality and mannerisms appropriate for their characters’ ages during the different acts. Their chemistry together was wonderful. Additionally, Alix Neenan made a remarkable Stage Manager, keeping the entire show well paced while masterfully appearing as various townspeople.
Costumers Cecilia Albert and Angela Cirino dressed each character in tasteful, period pieces helped successfully transport audiences from 2023 into small-town New England in the early 1900s.
St. Mark’s Players’ “Our Town” is the invitation we all need to take a shared moment to slow down and actually see one another.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes with two 10-minute breaks.
“Our Town” runs through October 21, 2023 at St. Mark’s Players, 301 A St SE, Washington, DC 20003. For more information and tickets, go online.