"Wherever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense," says the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's quietly subversive Our Town. Thanks to innumerable school productions over 75 years, the Pulitzer Prize winner's sparse, simple staging is as immediately recognizable as a renaissance pietà or the Golden Arches. Two ladders representing the windows through which George Gibbs and Emily Webb speak to each other. Side-by-side kitchens in which their families experience the everyday. A flock of tombstones on which the dead talk of the living.
Like youth, Wilder's plays are often wasted on the young. Hit and Run Theater Company states as its goal to go beyond the typical "hearts and flowers" take on Our Town to something darker, as Wilder intended. Since this isn't a school production, adults play the adult roles, and we feel the mortal tinge more directly. However, as we revisit two ordinary families in the small New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners, the first two acts are ritualized, if not exactly dark.
Seattle Rep veteran Gordon Coffey wryly plays the Stage Manager, punctuating his commentary with an array of eye rolls, squints, and open-mouthed guffaws. Charissa J. Adams and Kevin Pugsley are enchanting—spontaneously and permeably alive as Emily and George. (Their authenticity helps redeem the tentative, canned quality of some other performances.) Directed by Arne Zaslove, the key scenes hold their own against the Century Ballroom's drawbacks, which include stumble-inducing risers and ambient din from the dance hall next door. Nobody will be immune to Emily's wrenching protestations against the unnatural tide of marriage that will rip her from kin and deliver her to life's next stage (and then its final destination).
Wilder's anthropological sensibility makes such social transitions as primal as National Geographic. Yet soon after her betrothal, Emily remembers nothing of it. "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?" she famously asks. They will, at least in theory, after seeing this serviceable production.