On of my favorite community theaters whose work is quite professional and yet very reasonable in cost to attend, always becomes enjoyable under the capable direction of Executive Artistic Director Marilyn Langbehn. Located at 951 Pomona Ave. in El Cerrito, CA, the Contra Costa Civic Theater may seem a bit of a journey, but certainly not so far as required in attending many premium theaters in San Francisco.
This past week my wife and I enjoyed the opening performance of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 masterpiece, a three-time Pulitzer prize-winning play, Our Town. At first, an introduction to Grover’s Corners by the stage manager/narrator, who speaks to the audience about a small imaginary community town in New Hampshire, its townspeople, its values and simplistic history seems almost mundane.
Throughout the play, we are guided through introductions to members of this community, including two of its families (the Gibbs and the Webb family), their children, their choir leader, Joe Crowell delivers the daily newspaper, and Howie Newsom in the act of delivering the morning milk. Each act thereafter takes us forward through the years, demonstrating how the lives of this town’s families a hundred years ago, rings so familiar to our lives today. The play does not bother with fancy props, costumes or elaborate scenery, but it focuses on the concept that we often life without really appreciating what life has to offer. Once we die, (according to Wilder’s plot), and are able to look back on our life and see what we had, discovering that it is really too late to have any regrets. Major themes of the play include morality, appreciating life, companionship, marriage, and love, and of course the inevitability death, all aspects in the circle of life.
According to an article by writer Bud Kliment “Our Town’s encompassing significance was not immediately obvious, nor did it have an easy birth. The play’s long journey to its first performance in Princeton, and the genesis of Wilder’s mythical town, began in 1920 in Rome. Wilder, at 23, was a student at the American Academy, studying Italian, Latin, and notably, archaeology. He quickly realized that, although separated by thousands of years, ancient and present-day people were perhaps not very different from each other at all. That realization, his idea that human lives across centuries are universally conjoined by certain personal moments and milestone events, became a foundation of Our Town.”
The eight-member cast’s selection should be lauded not just for the outstanding talent of the actors themselves, but for the ethnic diversity as well. More specific information as to the casts performance history, the remaining production dates, Covid requirements, and a link to purchase tickets ahead of time are clearly disseminated at the company’s website, firstname.lastname@example.org/our-town. Tickets are quite reasonable at $35 each for adults, and youth (ages 13-16) at $15 each. Children 12 years of age or under and unvaccinated adults, are not allowed in the theater at this time. Evidence that you have had your Covid vaccinations is required and masks are required in the theater. No food or drinks are allowed or served inside the theater, masts are allowed to be removed while drinking or eating outside of the theater at intermissions only. The show runs approximately two hours and 50 minutes, including two intermissions. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays are at 7:30 PM (NOTE: THE EARLY START/TIME), and with Sunday performances at 2 PM occurring every weekend now through October 31.
Author Wilder is quoted as describing his effort in writing this story, “an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events of our daily life.” My wife and I found it once again as enjoyable as we did many years ago.