Sallyportal: Madly Blogging Reed

Our Town Rings In Diver Theatre

"Our Town" director Prof. Kate Bredeson and assistant director Alan Cline ’14 Photo by Leah Nash

“Does anyone ever realize life while they live it . . . every, every minute?” asks one of the characters in Our Town.

For the past two months, more than 50 Reed students have taken risks, solved problems, and put their minds and bodies to the task making Reed's production of Our Town—Thornton Wilder’s classic play—new once more.

Directed by Prof. Kate Bredeson, the production will ring in the Diver Studio Theatre, the centerpiece of Reed's new Performing Arts Building. Wilder’s stage directions call for “no scenery,” providing a marvelous opportunity to showcase the new space and its state-of-the-art technology.

“People think Our Town is a simple and love saccharine story about George and Emily,” says Bredeson. “As a director, I wanted to take something we think we know culturally and offer the audience a chance to re-see it.”

In addition to 14 cast members, students are involved as stage manager, assistant director, running the light boards, and working on costumes. Prof. Michael Thomas Taylor [German and humanities 2012–] is the dramaturg for the production. There’s even a surprise guest professor in the show.

First performed in 1938, Our Town depicts the majesty of everyday life among citizens of the fictional Grover’s Corners. Profoundly avant-garde in its day, the play was inspired by the modernist style of Wilder’s friend, Gertrude Stein. Over the years it has become a staple of high school productions (perhaps because it requires no sets) and crops up in TV episodes of My So-Called Life and The Wonder Years.

As a theatre historian, Bredeson likes classic texts. Previously at Reed she directed Antigone by Jean Anouilh and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. For the Diver Studio Theatre’s inaugural production, she wanted to stage something big, classic, and iconic, and then offer the audience a chance to see it in another way. She made unconventional choices, such as casting a female student, Zoe Rosenfeld ’16, as George Gibbs, and Andrew Watson ’14 in the role of Mrs. Gibbs. Jake Gonnella ’17 plays both Rebecca Webb and Joe Stoddard.

“Maybe some of the social constructs we have are more fluid than we think they are,” she says. “I think the theatre provides a particular venue for exploring that.”

The production takes advantage of the theatre’s two levels and technology will be evident in everything from the lighting to a projected video made for the show. There are a lot of doors in the theatre, and Bredeson says they use every one of them. A garage door in the middle of the set will be open to reveal the scene shop.

When Bredeson chose Our Town, she hadn’t realized this year marked the play’s 75th anniversary. Two other productions of the play are also playing in Portland during November—one at Portland Statue University and the other by Liminal. The three directors came together to be interviewed by a reporter from Willamette Week, and Bredeson plans to take students to see the other productions.

“What could have been a weird situation has turned into a wonderful community dialogue,” Bredeson says. “It became a cool way to talk about the play.”

Our Town remains timely because of its eternal message, says Bredeson. “It is a recognition that life is short and we need to be present in our interactions with each other, even in the most quotidian things,” she says. “What better place to ask us to do that than in a theatre, which is a forum that happens in front of us in real time. There’s really nothing like watching people on stage, living out alternative realities in real time.” 

Performances are at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, November 7, 8, 9 and 14, 15, 16. All seats are reserved and tickets are available online or at the PAB box office, 3 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.