Back in Grover's Corners 

Experimental Our Town Is Still Our Town

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LIMINAL PERFORMANCE GROUP, long a bastion of experimental theatrical work in Portland, is currently running one of the most frequently produced shows in American theater: Our Town, the chestnuttiest chestnut of them all. Mileage will vary depending on your tolerance for Thornton Wilder's classic, but Liminal's production has a lot going for it. Technically, it's excellent: the sound design is ambitious and perfectly integrated; video projection is used in thoughtful ways that serve the story and add depth to the otherwise bare-bones set. And the tone set in the first act by Leo Daedalus as the omniscient Stage Manager (chewing gum and wearing a Kraftwerk T-shirt) is casual, chatty, witty—there's mercifully little of the hazy nostalgia that Wilder's endlessly over-produced script is often drenched in.

Despite the multimedia, stripped-down cast, and other elements that let you know that the theater you're watching counts as "experimental," Liminal's show still gets its emotional weight from the simple, sweet relationship between two kids, Emily and George, played here with incredible freshness by Jahnavi Caldwell-Green and Corey O'Hara. They're terrific, as is Daedalus, as he introduces life in the small town of Grover's Corners, where people fall in love and get married and have babies, and everyone assumes they've got all the time in the world.

The show's first act feels almost sunny, but in act two things take a distinctly darker turn: George and Emily's wedding is given an intensely over-the-top, ominous wash, turning the ceremony into a dark community ritual, these two young people sacrificed on the altar of adulthood. But as effective as the scene is on its own, it doesn't particularly make sense in the context of this nice young couple who, we know, are excited to marry and live on a nice little farm.

The problem with Our Town is not simply that familiarity has bred contempt with Wilder's script, which is a staple of high school theater productions. It's that the elements of Wilder's script that were noteworthy in 1938, when the show was written, are old hat now. It's no longer mind-blowing to see an actor break the fourth wall and draw attention to the theatricality of the experience, nor is it rare for art to aspire to helping audiences "live in the moment." This isn't like Othello, a script whose themes endlessly renew themselves; this is rewatching The Sixth Sense after you know about the whole "seeing dead people" thing.

Also problematic is the sheer length of the show, which runs more than two and a half hours. The last scene drags terribly, bringing to the forefront the terrible irony that plagues any show intent on reminding audiences to live in the moment: That in fact, in this moment, we're sitting in a theater watching fucking Our Town.

If you've never seen Our Town before, this is a great way to see it; Liminal does an admirable job making this done-to-death script feel fresh. I can't shake the feeling, though, that I'd rather have seen this level of diligence, humor, and experimentation brought to bear on a less familiar script.

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