I attended the first preview of 'Our Town', the classic play in three acts written by Thornton Wilder produced by the Pasadena Playhouse and Deaf West Theatre. The whole theatre was filled with the nervous energy fitting an opening night of a show that opens with a 'stage manager', spilt between four actors for this production. The play shows life in Grover's Corners New Hampshire from 1901 through 1913 with a focus on two families. As neighbor's in the small town The Gibbs and TheWebbs lead us through everyday life in every stage.
Charming and funny, the cast flows with the tempo. The minimalistic set from designer David Meyer lets the storytelling shine. This is called for with the play, but it still got a chuckle from the audience when 'Stage Manager' said "here was the scenery if you feel like you needed it". Jane Kaczmarek voices mostly while signing too in other characters and splits the 'Stage Manager' role with Alexandra Wailes (also Mrs Gibbs), Troy Kotsur (also Simon Stimson), and Russell Harvard (also Mr Webb) signing while not their other characters. The group of four works so smoothly together while moving the production along as a stage manager should. This is a wonderful use of shadow acting that allows the signer to be front and center for the needed visibility, but also adds a dimension with the voicing actor. A simple placement across the stage instead of right next could add a note of confidence in the character. A quick look to the side can add a feeling of questioning. An amazing job by the ASL masters Joshua Castille and Charles Katz the pair entwine two languages with such artistry. I'm still a little weepy from the wedding scene.
Stand outs in the cast were 'Emily Webb' (Sandra Mae Frank signing with Sharon Pierre-Louis voicing) and for 'George Gibbs' (Deric Augustine). Their chemistry was sweet and showed their characters love story beautifully. Bring tissues because you maybe tearing up like 'Mrs Soames' played by Dot-Marie Jones, a scene stealer and audience favorite. Ensemble/Joe Crowell Jr (On Shiu) was another standout for his timing and witty replies. The diversity of this cast and the political tone in some scenes makes this a very timely production. Witnessing this bilingual version with a cast that looks like America today shows how much we've grown as a country and how far we have to go.
A joy for me at shows with Deaf talentis to gauge the audience. The Pasadena Playhouse was full of excited energy. I chatted with the woman sitting to my left after she admitted to having never attended and ASL show. She was concerned on how it would look. I tried to explain shadow acting and that it wouldn't matter if you knew ASL. After the first act she confessed she was still searching the stage for the voicing actor, but after act two she said she finally understood what they were doing. This is a production an audience member could see over and over again and notice new aspects every time.
I would recommend this show to those who love the classic story, those who want to expand their world and support some amazing #deaftalent, and those who want to see a stunning theatre property. The mission look and open courtyard demand a visit separate from the show itself. Catch this beautiful production at The Pasadena Playhouse running now until October 22. Visit pasadenaplayhouse.org for ticket and show details. Also deafwest.org for more details on this production and amazing company.
Photo: Pasadena Playhouse