Return to Grovers Corners for the Ultimate Experience in Comfort Theater
By Dana Hammer
Many stage plays pride themselves on being edgy — plays with nudity, buckets of fake blood, murdering clowns, dying fish flopping on dry stages, staple guns, dinosaurs, and light bondage. (Look, I don’t need to hear your judgment, ok?) But theater doesn’t have to be edgy to be emotionally impactful, and it doesn’t have to be shocking to be great. Sometimes, the most effective pieces are those that celebrate life, as it is, without any embellishments or chainsaws. "Our Town" is one of these timeless classics, and now you can see it at Costa Mesa Playhouse.
"Our Town" takes place in the small town of Grovers Corners. You are probably familiar with the plot — after all, this is one of the most commonly produced plays of all time — but just in case you aren’t familiar with it, it follows the lives of the citizens of this town, exploring themes of youth, coming of age, falling in love, and death. It’s cozy as a warm blanket and cup of cocoa, and timeless in its portrayal of emotional truths. But cozy isn’t to say boring, or trite.
According to Chris Mertan, the director, “When this play premiered in 1938 it was groundbreaking - it literally invented so many theatrical devices and tropes we take for granted today. We want that same revolutionary spirit that Wilder approached his audiences with. So we're grounding our production in what I'd call the eternal now. It's not a period piece, it's not modernized, but something that feels ephemerally timeless. This goes down to our sets, the music we'll be performing, everything.”
The sets are designed by Mia Anderson, who says, “This will be my second set design and I am so grateful to Chris Mertan and Michael Serna for mentoring me and taking a chance on my idea. Overall, in this show, we are trying to weave together the community of Grovers Corner, as well as our Orange County community. While we still want to honor the minimalism that this show is famously known for, while also include the audience into the set design as well.”
Mia Anderson will also be playing the role of Stage Manager; a role that is typically played by a male actor. According to Anderson, “This is such an iconic role, but it is written and still often played by men. But nothing about the script requires it to be a man, so why not cast a woman? Why not me? And there is still so many people that haven’t seen this show, so It’s exciting to think that they’ll only have seen the Stage Manager be played by a female. I am also looking forward to being challenged, not only with all the lines and monologues, but with adding my own spin to the role…Unlike the classical representation, my stage manager has opinions, they’re a little bit of a romantic, and there’s a special relationships with these characters I get to have as a woman, especially with Emily in Act 3.”
So, yes, this is a classic play that you’ve probably seen before. But you probably haven’t seen it like this. And even if you have, the themes presented in this piece are eternally relatable and relevant. There is a reason it’s a classic.
According to Mertan, “In American theater, there's maybe three or four bona fide classics: “Death of a Salesman ", “Long Day's Journey Into Night ", “A Streetcar Named Desire ", and "Our Town". And "Our Town" is the oldest, the one that started it all. What draws me in every time is its dual reverence and iconoclasm. Wilder clearly loves the citizens of Grover's Corners, their quiet nobility, but he's not so sentimental as to deny the realities of life. It stirs up a deeply spiritual approach to how we spend our lives and how we're part of the cosmic cycle of existence.”
Quiet nobility might be the best way to describe this play. As Mia Anderson says, “This show doesn’t have any exciting explosions or crazy plot twists, but its about the beauty of life, enjoying every moment of life, and connecting to our community.”
And who among us couldn’t use a reminder to appreciate life, and connect to our communities? Especially in these divisive, twitchy, post-pandemic days, we all need a push to reconnect with what matters to us, to appreciate the small miracles that happen to us every day, and to love the people who people our existence. Even if those people never blow anything up or do cool stuff with knives.
Dana Hammer is the author of The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting, My Best Friend Athena, and many plays and short stories. She unapologetically loves Joe Goldberg.
Costa Mesa Playhouse
661 Hamilton Street, Costa Mesa CA 92627
May 12 - June 4, 2023
(949) 650-5269, www.CostaMesaPlayhouse.com