Our Town | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Our Town, Bailiwick Repertory.

Fusing oral language, sign language, and movement, director Cecilie Keenan offers a fluid and sometimes invigorating revival of Thornton Wilder's timeless work. Her goal is to enlarge Grover's Corners beyond speech; and set designer Rick Paul's lattice of ladders suggests that this production won't remain on one plane. At least three levels (or, if you're cynical, three rings) coexist in this Our Town: five actors (carrying token scripts) speak and "act"; four other performers, their mute counterparts, flesh out the words with symbolic or mimetic movement; and two deaf actors translate into sign language. The Stage Manager is portrayed by two people, a deaf and a hearing actor, who sagely guide us through this elemental saga.

Sometimes the various languages reinforce each other: the magnificent third act, a heartbreaking testament to life's fragility, profits from this concentration of word, gesture, and movement. But almost as often the different approaches undercut one another. Emily and George's soda-fountain courtship is distractingly diffuse, portrayed by three couples who steal focus from and cancel out the others. Sympathy can't be stretched this far.

Given the uneven acting and often cliched movement, Bailiwick's Our Town can be seen as a case of more is less--Keenan has arguably tried to open up what was never closed, producing a melange that may alienate the way Brecht does. But this is a play so true to the heart that it can probably carry these subtexts and supertexts. A weak introduction to the classic, Keenan's hybrid is nevertheless worthy of its source--and that's no small praise.

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