Despite the technical and medical advances of the modern world, the human experience is mostly the same since our cells started forming out of that primordial soup.
We are born. We live. We love. We die.
That’s the feeling American playwright Thornton Wilder evokes in his Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town, which is about to take the stage at Caravan Farm Theatre.
This year’s summer production is a little different from recent Caravan shows in that it is a well-known play by an internationally recognized playwright, and is not an adaptation.
“We wanted to do a classic for summer and take a break from a new Canadian play. We thought this is a beautiful place to do it and give it our Caravan flair, but still honour the play and what Thornton’s intent was,” said Caravan’s artistic director Courtenay Dobbie, who is directing the production.
“We present it in a very authentic way. It’s very relatable.”
Although not a musical, there is still lots of music in the show.
“We even have a choir. There’s lots of singing, but it’s definitely a play. The drama is that it chronicles the trials and tribulations of life,” said Dobbie.
Set in the small fictional community of Grover’s Corners from 1901 to 1913, Our Town hearkens back to the days when communication was done face-to-face and family time was spent as a unit.
As Wilder put it himself, Our Town is “the life of a village against the life of the stars.”
Touted as one of the finest plays ever written, Our Town made its premiere in 1938 and is still performed, on average, every night somewhere around the world.
“Why I think it is still done is the play is so poignant. It has stood the test of time,” said Dobbie. “It manages to break stereotypes. It exposes the milestones and the fears and the joy behind them, as well as truth and disappointments.”
The play’s themes – love, birth, death – speak to all humans, but there are also broader themes about valuing time with one another.
“It’s about enjoying every moment with the time that we have here on Earth,” said Dobbie.
As director, Dobbie wanted to make the setting for Our Town authentic, so she spent time researching the esthetic of local communities around the early part of the 20th century.
“I’ve looked at lots of pictures of Vernon, Armstrong and Salmon Arm. There were no cars, just horse and buggies and there was not much electricity. They didn’t have power stations. Milk and cream were still delivered to the door in bottles,” she said. “They had the newspaper as their connection to each other. They had their books and Bible. There was no TV. People were playing music and they ate together. There was more connection.”
The play follows childhood friends George Gibb (played here by Vancouver actor Mike Gill) and Emily Webb (Toronto’s Charlie Gould) who grow up across the street from one another.
They eventually fall in love, get married and have children.
“The show follows their trajectory, but also follows the life of the residents in their small-town environment,” said Dobbie. “It speaks to knowing thy neighbour… and comes with the struggle about everyone knowing what you’re doing.
“There’s not much happening as the townsfolk are going through their daily lives, but we can relate to the complexity of major life events as they are happening.”
The play is “narrated” by the Stage Manager (played by Calgary actor Christopher Hunt, seen in past Caravan productions Head over Heels and The Notorious Right Robber and his Robber Bride).
“He is the touchstone and guides the audience through life in Grover’s Corners,” said Dobbie. “Some of his monologues are the most quoted from Our Town.”
Besides Caravan’s majestic Clydesdale horses and the professional actors – some new and some familiar to audiences – members of the North Okanagan-Shuswap community, including children, have been enlisted to play a broad range of characters.
“They have speaking parts and as the play goes along, we meet new characters. It really focusses on the townsfolk and different walks of life,” said Dobbie.
“Unlike Romeo and Juliet, this is called Our Town. It’s about many different journeys. By involving the community, it’s like our town does Our Town. Caravan is a tight-knit community and it’s nice to show that. It’s about the people, relationships and honouring that.”
Our Town opens at Caravan Farm Theatre, 4886 Salmon River Rd., northwest of Armstrong, July 21, with previews July 19 and 20. The show runs nightly at 7:30 p.m. (gates open at 6:30 p.m.) until Aug. 21 (no shows Mondays). Contact the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469 or ticketseller.ca for tickets.
More information is available at caravanfarmtheatre.com