Theater Review: Heavenly University Theatre Production of ‘Our Town’ Transcends Time

After a hectic day filled with impeachment hearings, errands, and countless open browser tabs, I finally found myself in the Titmus Theatre for the opening night of North Carolina  State’s University Theatre production of Our Town, and just for a moment, time stood still. Confronted with the epic scale of the celestial set, I was untethered from my earthly woes and enveloped by the vastness and magic of the universe. And all of this happened before the first line was uttered.

Amid this magical landscape, Nicole Hiemenz opens the show, delivering the dictionary definition of a spell-binding performance as the Stage Manager. Between her honeyed voice and sense of pure wonderment, Hiemenz draws the audience in. And under Mia Self’s magnificently contemplative direction, Hiemenz does the impossible, seemingly slows down time itself.

Several ensemble members deliver standout featured performances with laser-sharp specificity and a precise dialed-in tone that is human, funny, complex, and empathetic. Eschewing broad stereotypes in these lesser characters, the director and performers economically create glimpses of people we have all known. Ryan Tsolis as the troubled organist Simon Stinson, Skye Pham as paperboy  Si Crowell, and Katie Frid as town busybody Mrs. Soames, notably stand out among these.

But no star in this constellation of performances shines brighter than Dani Coan in her gloriously relatable and warm portrayal of Emily Webb. Her Emily is refreshingly earnest and, well, charmingly dorky. Coan is buoyed by a strong ensemble of Webbs and Gibbses, lead by an enlighted Skyler Skinner as Mrs. Gibbs.

The design was just so good, so cohesive, a triumph of what is possible when some of the most skilled artists in our region achieve their highest collaborative potential. The very human and realistic converges with the ethereal and eternal with swirls of blues and purples and twinkling stars. Jayme Mellema’s set, along with the lighting, reveals itself at times as a map, interlocking flat circles of time and space. Other than simple wooden furniture pieces, the only props are a pair of ghostly, skeletal umbrellas–a haunting reminder of the fragile impermanence of it all. 

I could write a full page analysis of the specificity of storytelling through Laura Parker’s costume design. The period detailing and specificity of each costume is juxtaposed beautifully with the Stage Manager’s more anachronistic suiting.

Thornton Wilder asks us, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”  Director Mia Self, the illustrious production team, and this ensemble gently, lovingly force us to confront this question and for a moment to be more mindful, more connected, and more human.

The University Theatre production of Our Town runs through October 6th at North Carolina State’s Titmus Theatre. For more information visit: https://theatre.arts.ncsu.edu/ or the RDU on Stage Calendar Page for a listing of performances.

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