“Our Town” Returns to Sarasota in Asolo Repertory Theater Production

Director Desdemona Chiang has an app on her phone called “We Croak”, which frequently reminds her that death can happen at any time.

“It is based on a Bhutanese belief that if you contemplate death several times a day, it is a path to happiness,” she said. The messages remind us that “our time on this planet is fleeting. We don’t know in our guts that we could die anytime. If this idea was real to me, I might be living my life differently.

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Rappers may be a suitable preparation for Asolo’s Repertory Theater production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” which she directs with a cast consisting primarily of young actors, many of whom are current or former students of the FSU / Conservatory. Asolo.

Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, set in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, is primarily about the impact of death on the way we spend our days. It depicts the routines of everyday life in a small town (or big city) – daily chores, work, romance – while asking the now familiar question: “Do human beings ever realize life as they are?” live it?

Desdemona Chiang is the director of

Chiang was ambivalent when artistic director of production Michael Donald Edwards asked him to direct the production, which he originally planned to direct himself last season, before the COVID pandemic forced a delay. one year.

“Isn’t that what I did in high school?” She remembered thinking at the time. “There are people who love ‘Our City’ and people who hate ‘Our City’, but you rarely meet someone who is agnostic towards them. Either they love it and it speaks to them and that’s it, and the others think it’s dated, nostalgic, outdated.

But it remains as current as ever and one of the most produced pieces ever written.

“In some ways the play will never go out of style as everyone always has to face death. It may not seem like the most urgent piece until something shitty happens like a pandemic or a war. This is when we have to grapple with our mortality.

But she was intrigued enough by Edwards’ offer to reread the play.

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“Coming out of the pandemic, I wondered what we had to say. I didn’t think ‘Our Town’ was that. But when I read it, I was surprisingly moved and cried by the second act. I hadn’t read it for so long. I read it when I was maybe 15 years old. It doesn’t mean anything to you at 15. But when I read it a second and a third time now, I cried.

The views of Chiang are not uncommon.

“It has become fashionable to present Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ as sentimental, old-fashioned nostalgia with golden hues, sepia tones and death,” wrote Howard Sherman in the introduction to his book “Another Day’s Begun. : “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder in the 21st Century. “

Howard Sherman, author of

In the book, published last year by Methuen, the former executive director of the American Theater Wing and administrator of theaters such as Geva and Goodspeed Musicals, focuses on 12 productions and how directors and lead actors approached the show to make it relevant today. One was staged in 2013 at the Sing-Sing Correctional Facility, and another was presented by Deaf West Theater in 2017. Sherman said he could have chosen a number of productions to explore for prepare the book.

The play, which debuted in 1938, has been a success almost from its debut. Since the 1940s, it has been one of the most produced plays in high school theaters across the country.

The cover of

At Asolo Rep, Kenn E. Head, a veteran Chicago actor but a newcomer to Asolo Rep, plays the role of stage manager, a sort of narrator and a possible replacement for Wilder himself. Alex Benito Rodriguez, who graduated from the Conservatory last spring, plays George Gibbs, opposite Caroline Mixon, another newcomer from Asolo Rep, in the role of his neighbor and lover Emily Webb.

Diane Coates, who appeared in the 2019 productions of “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Into the Breeches”, returns as Ms. Webb opposite Gregg Weiner as Mr. Webb. Summer Dawn Wallace, another Conservatory graduate and co-founder of the Urbanite Theater in Sarasota, plays Ms. Gibbs, opposite Greg Watanabe as Dr. Gibbs.

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Announcing the new season, Edwards said he originally picked “Our Town” last year in response to the pandemic.

Sherman said the piece, like Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” “will always speak to no matter what the current challenge is, no matter the new challenge, taking us back to our fundamentals, the fundamentals of humanity and of life together “.

When things come up that take us away from the fundamentals, “we need a lot of people who are crying out against what’s going on in the world, and I applaud them. But sometimes we just need people who just want to show us that there is a better way to live and in terms of how we think about ourselves and the people around us, ”he said. .

After the murder of George Floyd in June 2020, which sparked widespread protests for greater equality in society and fair representation in the theater world, Edwards decided it would be better to have someone of color. “Running the show in terms of where we are right now. He had spoken to Chiang before about directing in Sarasota, but the schedules never worked out.

Seattle-based Chiang, who has worked in dozens of theaters across the country, said the pandemic has turned out to be one of those times that challenges our way of seeing the world.

From left to right, Alex Benito Rodriguez, Kenn E. Head and Caroline Mixon in “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder at the Asolo Repertory Theater.

“Look how quickly the pandemic has changed our lives, how disruptive it has been. Not a single person on this planet has been affected, at least inconvenienced at worst, but others have lost entire branches of their family tree.

In a time when people feel vulnerable, fragile and fearful all the time, “this is where we reveal the fullness of life. People respond to ‘Our town’ and say ‘meh’ when things are going well, but when you get shaken the universe gives you a hard time, that’s when you say, wow, ‘Our town’ to me. really speaks. “

The production will be Chiang’s first live theater performance since March 2020. She has run many Zoom theaters “which is just awful, but hey we want to make art.” I’ve done radio musicals, hybrid theater film projects, but they all involved machines of some sort.

So “Our Town” is another opportunity to appreciate the life she leads. “I’m excited and a little nervous. The theater is coming back as quickly as it has closed, ”Chiang said.

Sherman said he loved the play when he started working on his book, but now finds it “quite remarkable because she just wants us to think about what we’re doing and remember what we’re doing. take care of our loved ones and loved ones. the larger community.

‘Our city’

By Thornton Wilder. Directed by Desdemona Chiang. From January 12 to March 26 at the Mertz Theater repertoire, FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 941-351-8000;

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