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Theater Review: Our Town in Santa Monica

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Thorton Wilder's play is arguably the greatest work in American dramatic literature. It combines elements of the mundane and universal, the quotidian and the divine, the parochial and the eternal. Director David Cromer has reassembled the award-winning production that had a successful run at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York with Helen Hunt in the role of the Stage Manager.

This is a magnificent production that captures the spirit of the Wilder classic and yet reinvents the staging in a way that is both contemporary and accessible. Cromer has reconfigured the Broad Stage in Santa Monica to create an intimate space in which the action is played on a narrow stage with the audience on three sides. With only few tables and chairs, Stage Manager Hunt sets the scene in Grovers Corners, where birth, marriage and death play out in the three-act play.

By means of skillful direction and casting, Cromer creates a world where the audience feels transported to Wilder's small town. With the house lights up full in the opening act, the atmosphere is more like a New England community hall than a traditional theater. Hunt is a wonderful and compassionate guide to the town - just the sort of an intelligent Yankee booster you would hope to meet on a tour of New Hampshire. She weaves an intimate, spontaneous tone for the play, mingling with the audience in her contemporary suburban mom garb, making us outsiders feel at home in this trip through humanity's path from the everyday to the eternal.

Wilder treats us to the three great events of life -- "hatch, match and dispatch" as the priests refer to it) -- and Cromer and his ensemble treat these events with a kind of offhand reverence that is beautifully synchronized with the tone of Wilder's text. James McMenamin as the young George Gibbs and Jennifer Grace as his doomed wife-to-be Emily are outstanding and fresh in their performances. Tim Curtis is excellent as Emily's father, the editor of the local paper, as is Jeff Still in the role of Doc Gibbs. Jonathan Mastro also has a hilarious turn as the alcoholic local choir master.

This historic production, which runs through February 12th at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, is not to be missed.