Life in Grover’s Corners

by Renee Montalvo

A few weeks ago, about 160 people gathered at JPCatholic to watch the school’s annual theatrical production. This winter’s show was Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The play took place the weekend of November 30th – December 3rd with four showings in the school’s soundstage. The audience included family members of the cast, faculty, students, and several members of the local community.

Our Town is the story of two families who live in the small town of Grover’s Corners. The play is set in the early eighteenth century, and it documents the everyday lives of the townspeople. At the start of each showing, the director, Professor Evangeline Bitsko, offered the audience some background on the play. She shared that Our Town is the most widely produced play in the world.  

While it is a play which depicts the normal pace of life, it also has themes that resonate powerfully with an audience. The play’s three acts are broken up into the three stages of life, of both the Gibbs and Webb families. It documents the movement in family life from childhood to marriage, and then to the reality and pain of death. It is a play that transcends time and space and incorporates aspects of life to which all people can relate. One of the cast members, sophomore Nicholas Pape, summed up the play to be “so simple yet so rich with truth.”

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When audience members arrived at the soundstage they did not see an elaborate set design. The original script of the play begins “No curtain. No scenery. The audience arriving sees an empty stage in half-light.” JPCatholic’s set for the play consisted of two tables, four chairs, and two ladders. This decision for a minimalist set design, originally made by Wilder himself, was set in place so that the play could especially showcase the skill of the actors.  

This minimalist set design gave the actors the extra responsibility to portray the use of various objects which were not actually there. This acting technique, called pantomiming, uses gestures and bodily movements to illustrate an idea or mood. For instance, the actors had to act as if they were using a knife or opening cupboards that were not there. Senior Margie Curran, who played Mrs. Julia Gibbs, said she enjoyed using this technique because it allowed her to bring out her more childlike side and, in a sense, to “play pretend”.

One of the other unique parts of Our Town is that the audience has the chance to participate in the play. Mr. Webb, played by senior Megan Geier, breaks the fourth wall and takes questions from audience members. Three audience members were given the chance to ask Mr. Webb, the town newspaper publisher, a question about the town. Dr. Connolly was one given a pre-scripted question about the townspeople’s alcohol consumption. To this, Mr. Webb humorously replied “I wouldn’t know what you’d call much…We’ve got one or two town drunks, but they’re always having remorses every time an evangelist comes to town. No, sir, I’d say liquor ain’t a regular thing in the home here…” The actors showcased a unique ability to mix humorous tone with serious subject matter, giving the play a subtle and clever sense of humor. “Overall there was a good mix of spontaneous laughter, sighs, and even some tears,” remarked alumna Maria Andres.

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The cast was comprised of mostly females, including Annie Buchheit (as Stage Manager), Margie Curran (as Mrs. Julia Gibbs), Alaina Fordice (as Emily Gibbs), Megan Geier (as Mr. Webb), Clare McKay (as Dr. Frank Gibbs), and Meghan Woodard (as Mrs. Myrtle Webb). Some of these female actresses played multiple parts, including male characters, such as Veronica Argentieri, Jimena Banos, Jemma Gunderson, Alina Hernandez, and Madelyn Peterson. Alumna Maria Andres thought “the heavily female cast did a good job presenting a largely male character cast.”

Nicholas Pape, who played George Gibbs,  was the only male on set for the production. He was the only male to audition for the play. When asked how he felt about being the only male cast member Pape replied “it was just another day on set doing what I believe I am called to do. I just hope that I was able to help my fellow cast members grow as actresses and as sisters in Christ.”  

The chemistry between the cast members led to a beautiful and amusing experience for the audience. Anyone who missed the performance will be able to view the recording online soon. Students are already looking forward to next year’s JPCatholic winter production.