Director Robert Spain is making his third trip to “Our Town.”
The Thornton Wilder classic, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1938, opens Friday for a three-weekend run at Trumbull New Theatre.
Spain first directed “Our Town” in the mid ’80s at Kent State University at Trumbull for summer stock and later at Lawrenceville High School in New Jersey. The director said he just recently learned that Wilder taught French at Lawrenceville Prep, located just down the road from the high school where he staged “Our Town.” And the play made its debut in 1938 at the McCarter Theatre in nearby Princeton, N.J.
“I guess I was fated to work with this play,” he said.
More than 80 years after its debut, “Our Town” remains a theater staple.
“At any given time in the U.S. and around the world, ‘Our Town’ is being performed somewhere,” Spain said.
The play was revolutionary at the time, a meta-theatrical show traditionally presented on a bare stage except for a couple of ladders and furniture pieces.
“Wilder wasn’t satisfied with what was going on in American theater at the time,” Spain said. “He thought realism took away from the imagination of the people … The narrator and a couple other characters can break the fourth wall and talk to the audience. He didn’t want sets and props to take away from the imagination of the audience. He wanted the audience to be more involved in their thinking process.”
Some of the costuming reflects the time period of the show, but Spain adheres to the stripped down staging Wilder intended.
One change he did make for TNT is eliminating one of the intermissions. “Our Town” was written as a three-act play, but Spain is keeping the first intermission but staging the second and third acts without a break in between.
The play is set at the beginning of the 20th century in the fictional town of Grovers Corners. The first act introduces the townsfolk and over three acts it follows some of the characters from their happiest moments until death.
While there are elements that date the play, Spain said the story is universal.
“Some of these problems we have today were going on back then,” he said. “It’s about how we never really live life fully, and I think we still do that. We never give each moment to moment the due that we should. Wilder wrote in the ’30s reflecting on the early 1900s, but the same problems are happening now.”
The cast features Harmon Andrews, Amy Haigh Burd, Tina Cook, Tylor Horrell, Maddie Wason, Kadence Papantonakis, Logan Cook, Rhyan Papantonakis, Robert Elway, Gary Roddy, Deb Lavelle, Asia Randolph, Cadence Treich, Tom Horrell, Jerry Kruse and Chloe Cook.
Lavelle also is costume designer, and John Timmins is working with Spain as technical director and lighting / scenic designer.
“I think it was (playwright) Edward Albee who said ‘Our Town’ was one of the greatest American theatrical pieces ever written,” Spain said. “I like the simplicity of it. You can use young actors, you can use old actors … I’m getting things out of the actors I’m very happy with.”
If you go …
WHAT: “Our Town”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday through March 26 and 2 p.m. March 20 and 27
WHERE: Trumbull New Theatre, 5883 Youngstown Warren Road, Niles
HOW MUCH: $17 adults and $15 students. Tickets are available online at trumbullnewtheatre.tix.com and by calling the TNT box office at 330-652-1103 between 7 and 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday.