Arts & Culture

How SLO Little Theatre is making ‘Our Town’ feel like your town

Emily (Erin Parsons) and George (Cameron Parker) chat at the soda shoppe in a scene from “Our Town,” playing at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.
Emily (Erin Parsons) and George (Cameron Parker) chat at the soda shoppe in a scene from “Our Town,” playing at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.

Whether you live in San Luis Obispo, Grover Beach or Templeton, director Kevin Harris says you’re sure to relate to the classic play “Our Town,” playing at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.

“This is a universal story. It touches everyone no matter their age,” said Harris, the company’s managing artistic director.

Written by American playwright Thornton Wilder, the drama takes place between 1901 and 1913 in the fictional small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Although the drama is set several decades ago, Harris said, “I want it to feel real and treat the story in a contemporary way.”

To accomplish this, the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre production utilizes the entire theater space — abolishing the curtains that normally block the backstage and windows. There are no props and limited scenery.

“We usually shut out the world. I want the audience to live in the moment during the performance,” Harris explained.

To add to the present-day vibe, Suzanne Mann designed costumes that feature modern clothing. Mann first created silhouettes of all the characters dressed in attire from the early 1900s, and then found current counterparts for the actors to wear.

“Our Town,” which is narrated and guided by the Stage Manager (Tom Ammon), is broken into three acts – “Daily Life,” “Love and Marriage” and “Death and Eternity.”

Frank Gibbs (Gregg Wolff), the local doctor, never stops working. His wife, Julia (Patty Thayer), is a doting mother to George (Cameron Parker) and Rebecca (Penny DellaPelle).

The Gibbs family lives next door to Charles Webb (Stuart Wenger), his wife, Myrtle, (Alicia Klein) and their two children, Emily (Erin Parsons) and Wally (Phineas Peters). Charles is the editor of the Grover's Corners Sentinel newspaper.

Over the course of the play, George and Emily grow up together, fall in love and get married. They experience the wonders of birth and the heartaches of death surrounded by family and friends.

“Our Town” premiered in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1938. The same year, it became a success on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The play has been adapted numerous times in film, television and on the radio.

Despite its status as a community theater staple, Harris said this is the first time that he is directing “Our Town.”

Harris recalls not liking the play when he first read it in junior high school. At the time, he felt it was filled with “incredibly boring people,” he said.

Today, with two young sons and aging parents, Harris connects more to “Our Town” and its universal theme of life passages.

“Ever since I turned 40, I recognize that time is moving fast and I want to encourage others to appreciate the moments and slow down,” he said. “Our Town,” he added, is a play about living in the moment.

‘Our Town’

7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through May 28

San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo

$15 to $32

805-786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org

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