Schwimmer, Slotnick, Catlin Populate Chicago Our Town
by Kenneth Jones
The production runs to April 5 at Lookingglass Theatre Company's home inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works.
Schwimmer, long associated with Lookingglass, starred as Ross on TV's "Friends" and appeared in the recent Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. Lookingglass leaders are jumping into the act: Artistic director David Catlin plays Dr. Gibbs, and artistic director of new works Heidi Stillman plays Mrs. Gibbs. Joey Slotnick, whose face is known from film and TV, plays the Stage Manager.
Our Town also features Lookingglass Ensemble Members Thomas J. Cox (Ensemble), Christine Mary Dunford (Mrs. Webb), Laura Eason (Emily Webb), Raymond Fox (Ensemble), David Kersnar (Simon Stimson), Tracy Walsh (Ensemble), and Andrew White (Mr. Webb), and Artistic Associates Kevin Douglas (Ensemble) and Louise Lamson (Rebecca Gibbs).
According to production notes, "The citizens of Grover's Corners share the ultimate tale of community in this American classic. The Lookingglass Ensemble will infuse the play with a singular chemistry you won't see anywhere else. In the hands of these renowned artists, Thornton Wilder's masterpiece will be disarmingly beautiful, utterly compelling and painfully funny."
The groundbreaking 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is known for its presentational style, as a character called the Stage Manager introduces us to the life cycle of a sleepy New England town, where folks live, love and die.
"We both have long been admirers of the play β it's a beautifully drawn picture of how we all actually live our day-to-day lives: occupied by tasks, distracted from wishes, hoping for the best and waiting for the worst, just living," stated Shapiro and Thebus. "For the two of us, who grew up in the same place and have followed similar paths, we now find ourselves closer to the end of our lives than the beginning. It's not a bad thing or a scary thing. Life and its inescapable journey is one all humans share. If we begin in the same way and meet where we end, perhaps we should take better care of one another along the way. Not a bad idea at this point in time, we think."
Artistic director Catlin added, "This season is about being a part of a community which, after 21 years, epitomizes what an ensemble is β wherein the power of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Our 21st season illuminates how are all connected and therefore responsible for one another as citizens of the world."
Our Town designers include Lookingglass Ensemble Member John Musial (scenic design), Kevin O'Donnell (composition and sound design), J.R. Lederle (lighting design), Janice Pytel (costume design) and Galen Pejeau (properties design). The production stage manager is Sara Gmitter.
What most strikes Catlin about this famous play about youth, love, life and death? He told Playbill.com, "I find that life moves faster the older I get. I can't believe that Lookingglass is 21 years old. That we've known each other for almost a quarter of a century. 'It all,' as Emily says, 'happens so fast.'
"I look at my parents getting older and try to remember them when they were young. I spend the third act being bombarded with memories of camping trips with my dad cooking out of a giant cast iron frying pan, things that my mom did to celebrate my birthdays, how she'd make pancakes in the shapes of animals or my initials, moments driving my daughters to school, etc. I spend the third act being crushed by the 'unimportant' moments of my own life and how even the memories of those moments are elusive, fleeting. I am struck by Wilder's magical ability to call up personal history in each audience member.
"As our director indicated, we don't cry for Emily, we cry for ourselves. That is a huge gift."
How did set designer John Musial, a Lookingglass Ensemble member, address the bare-bones scenic world of the show, which asks for ladders and a stripped stage?
"The difficulty of the show is that it asks for no set," he told Playbill.com. "This was utterly radical in 1938 when realism was what was expected. Our take is to focus on the ensemble and our shared history. So to that end, the design conjures the looming presence of that history. The result is simple in conception, kind of impossible in execution, and hopefully, overwhelming to the audience. The performers have certainly found themselves lost in contemplation of the 'scenery.' I think anyone who has ever seen a Lookingglass show will have a similar experience."
(What Musial doesn't say is that scenic elements from the tradition and shared history of Lookingglass are hung throughout the house; set pieces β including pianos and chandeliers β fill the ceiling.)
Shapiro is an Ensemble Member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She won the 2008 Tony Award for her direction of August: Osage County. Thebus is an Artistic Associate at Steppenwolf.