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The southern Wake County Town of Garner, which was officially incorporated on April 16, 1905, will mark its centennial with a year-long celebration. One of the first events to commemorate the incorporation will be the Towne Players of Garner's production of Our Town, a masterpiece of Modern Drama by American literary giant and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thornton Niven Wilder (1897-1975).
The Madison, Wisconsin native won the his first Pulitzer in 1927 for his second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey; his second Pulitzer for Our Town, which made its Broadway debut on Feb. 4, 1938; and his third Pulitzer for the offbeat Broadway comedy The Skin of Our Teeth, which opened on Broadway on Nov. 18, 1942.
A Midwesterner by birth, Wilder set Our Town in Grover's Corner, New Hampshire, a typical turn-of-the-century New England small town. In sense and sensibility and syntax, Our Town is probably the most typically New England play in the American theater repertoire.
"I first saw the television version of the show with Robbie Benson and Hal Holbrook in 1977, I believe," recalls Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt. "I watched it because I had a crush on Robbie, but the play just blew me away. It was different from anything I had seen before. I always wanted to play Emily, but it was never done in my area while I was the correct age!"
She adds, "I love the timeless and universal nature of this show. I'm so tired of hearing theater folks say, 'You're doing Our Town?' as though it's a worthless piece of fluff. The show is brilliantly written and timeless in its messages, There are so many layers to ponder. I love this type of show. Every time I've seen it through the years, I've seen some new aspect the director felt important to point out. When the Garner Centennial Celebration Committee contacted us about participating in another event for them, I pitched the idea of this show. It seemed a perfect fit.
Honeycutt says, "Our Town is a slice of American life 100 years ago. It focuses on two families — their daily life, their loves and marriages, and their deaths."
Honeycutt's production of Our Town will star Audience favorites Frances Stanley and Holmes Morrison, who delighted Towne Players audiences in Driving Miss Daisy. Besides director Beth Honeycutt, the show's production team includes technical director Scott Honeycutt and costume designer David Serxner.
Staging this epic drama on the tiny stage of The Garner Historic Auditorium will tax her directorial imagination and resourcefulness, Beth Honeycutt opines. She says, "The biggest challenge is always the staging because of our limited space. We've also incorporated a multimedia presentation that occurs during the show which ties it into Garner. That has been a bit of a bear to figure out, but I have a strong technical team who has done a great job conquering the problems."
She adds, "I wanted to keep the set as close to what Wilder envisioned as possible. We only have set pieces and no props. I think it's a neat contrast to the multimedia screens on the sides on the stage.
"We've done a bit more with lighting for effect in this show because the set is so simple," says Honeycutt. "My husband [technical director Scott Honeycutt] has worked his usual miracles in the space, and [costume designer] David Serxner has done a lovely job creating an early 1900s feel. He brought in several local ladies to help with the sewing, so these clothes have been a community effort!"
Admission to Our Town will be FREE. Beth Honeycutt says, "The Garner Centennial Celebration Committee, in effect, bought all the tickets so that we could offer the show free as part of the centennial festivities. Complimentary tickets may be picked up at The Garner Historic Auditorium, Garner Town Hall, and the Garner Senior Center. They are going very quickly! Tickets will be available at the door on the night of the show on a first come, first serve basis."
The Towne Players of Garner present Our Town Thursday-Friday, Aug. 19-20*, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Aug. 21*, at 2 p.m., in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 West Garner Rd., Garner. Complimentary tickets are available at The Garner Historic Auditorium, the Garner Town Hall at 900 Seventh Ave., and The Garner Senior Center on East Garner Rd. 919/779-6144 (for information only). Towne Players of Garner: http://www.towneplayers.org/. Garner Centennial Celebration: http://www.garner100.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=6845. Thornton Wilder Society: http://www.thorntonwildersociety.org/.