Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" is timeless, and a talented cast and crew ably proved the point in the performance I saw on Saturday at The Empty Space. It seems to me that one reason the play is still being enjoyed 75 years after its birth is that it's about ordinary folks. It's a microcosm of people living in any town, anywhere, anytime -- yet at the same time it is a sensitive commentary on the natural order of things.
As Bob Kempf says in the second act, "You've got to love life to have life and you've got to have life to love life -- it's what they call a vicious circle." There's certainly a lot of truth in that statement.
Director Brian Sivesind added a few surprising touches that enhance the production. The script calls for only one person as Stage Manager, the character who acts as narrator, but Sivesind divided the duties between Kempf and Amy Hall. This worked well in terms of keeping the audience's interest during the lengthy and often descriptive speeches spoken by the Stage Manager.
Instead of opening with a completely bare stage as the playwright instructed, the show opens with a major portion of the 21-member cast placing with precision a dozen or so straight-back wooden chairs.
Then, after seating themselves, Kempf introduces them as the characters they portray. Once that's been done, the actors rise, pick up the chairs and move them to the rear of the stage.
Somber as that may sound, there's plenty of humor in this play, such as Barbara Gagnon's perky comments as Louella Soames, the town busybody, and exchanges on the street between Adam Fernandez, as Howie the milkman leading his unseen horse, Bessie, and Norman Colwell, the town constable, identified by the silver star on his chest.
No hand props or scenery are used, so various actions -- cooking, carrying books, drinking coffee and even opening and closing doors -- must be pantomimed. Well-designed lighting is a central part of the production and is especially effective in the wedding scene between Emily (Ellie Sivesind) and George (Brian Purcell.)
At the first intermission -- it's a three-act play -- an actor passes among the audience cups of cider and, at the second interval, "wedding cupcakes."
The audience provided a surprise of its own, bursting into spontaneous applause when veteran director Ron Steinman entered the stage for his cameo as the uppity Professor Willard.
"Our Town" continues through Nov. 23.
Simon rolls again
If there's ever an award for the actor most able to stay on his feet while careening drunkenly across the stage, I nominate Derreck Reed, who plays Paul Bratter in "Barefoot in the Park."
The Neil Simon comedy calls for plenty of energetic action, and Reed was definitely up to the challenge at the performance I saw on Sunday at Stars.
Overall it's a hilarious romp through a series of silly situations that the audience seemed to enjoy immensely, judging from the laughter. Personally, I found the material a bit dated -- it was written in the 1960s -- but the punch lines are still entertaining.
Basically, it's the story of a newlywed couple -- Reed portrays the husband, pert and petite Kelci Lowry the wife, Corie -- who are attempting to settle into their small New York apartment, which can be reached only by scaling five flights of stairs.
The audience doesn't see the stairway but it's believable because everyone who visits arrives at the Bratter's front door totally winded.
First to enter huffing and puffing is Jim Fillbrandt, as a telephone repairman, who's come to install a Princess phone, which he carries under his arm.
One of the funniest entrances is that of Cheryl Smith-Ellis, a superb comic actress with a sultry, smoky voice and a fascinating way of teetering about in high heels.
She plays Ethyl Banks, Corrie's mother, who is having a hard time being apart from her daughter. Corie sets up a romantic situation between Ethyl and their eccentric neighbor Victor Velasco (Kevin McDonald), which leads to a wild night of drinking ouzo in a Greek restaurant. This scene includes a rousing dance done by Nick Ono, wearing a red fez and ballooning green pants.
All ends well, when Paul finally succumbs to Corie's desire that he become more carefree, which he does by walking barefoot in the park while snow is falling.
"Barefoot in the Park" continues through Nov. 23.
Bakersfield native Mary Cervantes and three of her colleagues will perform as the Northridge Flute Quartet Sunday afternoon in the Dukes Memorial Concert series Sunday at First Congregational Church.
Cervantes is the daughter of Elizabeth and Ernie Cervantes, who are well known in local music circles. A music performance major at CSU Northridge, she has performed in many master classes there. She has been a guest soloist at the Beverly Hills International Chamber Music Festival for the past two years and has taught flute privately for five years.
Other members of the group are either current students or graduates of CSUN. The flutists are Armand Assaiante, Denia Bradshaw and Sheila Molazadeh.
The quartet will begin its program with Mendelssohn's Scherzo from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," followed by compositions by Tchesnokov, Hindemith and Smetana. The second half will include "Waltz in Ragtime," by Harry Breur, and compositions written for flutes by Domenico Cimarosa and Eugene Bozza.
Michelle Guerrero's interpretation of her favorite comic book characters is currently on exhibit at The Empty Space gallery. A reception honoring the artist will be held Saturday at the theater. Although the show's title indicates heroes, curator Jesus Fidel said the artists' work ranges from antagonists to protagonists. Batman, Venom, Catwoman and The Kraken are among the characters displayed.
"I have always loved superheroes, almost as long as I have loved creating art," Guerrero says in her artist's statement. "Some of my first forays into the art world were sketching heroes and villains from my favorite Saturday morning cartoons."
Following the reception, the exhibit can be 30 minutes before the start of any stage performance.