Monday, November 6, 2017

Review: ‘Our Town’ Delightful Retelling at Chester Theatre Group


No need to pack a bag to visit Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire… for the next two weekends it can be found at the corner of Maple and Grove in Chester, New Jersey…home of the Chester Theatre Group and their historic theater…the Black River Playhouse. Ok, have you identified the play?

The play is the Pulitzer prize-winning Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It is a timeless classic that tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover's Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.

The play may be set in a small New England town at the turn of the last century, but it has an important New Jersey connection. Our Town was originally produced at The McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey and premiered on Broadway in 1938. The play is presented as it was in 1938, minus any scenery with a few tables and chairs to suggest the homes of two neighboring families, the Gibbs and the Webbs. The Gibbs family consists of Doc Gibbs (Steven Nitka), Mrs. Gibbs (Karen Stafford Thornton) daughter Rebecca (Alexa Lauren Yudoff) and son George (Will Roper). Next door neighbors, the Webbs, include Mr. Webb (Chip Prestera), Mrs. Webb (Gayle Stants Hendrix), son Wally (Arden Henley) and daughter Emily (Jackie Jacobi).

The central plot is the story of George and Emily told in three acts (photo above): Courtship (Act One-Daily Life), Marriage (Act Two-Love and Marriage) and Beyond (Act Three-Death and Eternity). Beyond the sparse set, the actors, minus props, mime most actions from eating, opening doors to even pulling a milk wagon horse.

1412741_10152004624657354_1139678717_oThe play may be best known for the unique use of a stage manager (Sarah Henley-PHOTO RIGHT)) speaking directly to the theater audience narrating the events of Grover's Corners. Henley is excellent in this star turn, particularly in her long monologue at the opening of Act Three. This part is usually played by a man…but Henley nicely nails it.

jacki jThe other star turn is by a Jacki Jacobi as Emily. She nicely transitions through all stages of life from a sweet child, to a teen, and then to a bride. Her big moment comes in the Act Three scene where she re-lives her 12th birthday. Also, notable is Will Roper as George Gibbs… Emily's great love; Steve Nitka (with great beard) as George’s father who worried on his wedding day if he would be able to find things to talk about after the first months of marriage! Both mothers, Karen Stafford Thornton and Gayle Stants Hendrix were excellent… warm loving mothers. 

chipSeveral key highpoints: The tender scene of George taking Emily for a soda at the drugstore as the two admit that they have feelings for each other; George’s awkward pre-wedding discussion with his father-in-law-to-be (Chip Prestera) and about marriage and how to be a virtuous husband. (Prestera-PHOTO RIGHT- is a marvelous comic actor who never fails to impress. This is his first time at the CTG. His ‘home theater’ is the Chatham Playhouse); and the touching wedding scene…complete with reluctant bride down to the old woman crying with joy (Roseann Ruggiero).

The other fine cast members include:  Kevern Cameron Simon Stimson (always a treat to see Cameron); John Santucci Joe Crowell; Bobby Becht Howie Newsome; Colleen Grundfest Professor Willard & Joanne Stoddard; Roseann Ruggiero Mrs. Soames; Bob Sackstein Constable Warren; Gloria Lamoureux Sarah Craig (glows even in a rare supporting role); and Paula Roper A Woman Among the Dead.

Director Kate Lyn Reiter’s creative staff includes: Diane Butler producer; Barbara Henderson stage manager Stephen Catron set designer & construction; Cathy Braithwaite costume & props; Ellen Fraker-Glasscock lighting & sound design; Danielle Becht assistant director; Richard Vetter light and sound operator; and Nikki Simz production assistant.   

Our Town is a warm, touching tale of another, more innocent time, beautifully presented by director Kate Lyn Reiter with a particularly fine cast. The plot is deceptively simple... Boy meets girl....Boy gets Girl.

DSC08020         Emily and her mother

DSC08048George and his father

You have until Sunday November 19th to visit ‘Our Town.’ Remaining Performances: November 10, 11, 17, 18 at 8 PM
November 12, 19 at 2 PM

The Playhouse is located at 54 Grove Street (at the corner of Maple Avenue), Chester, NJ. For more information, visit the CTG website at

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