Batavia Players perform a tale of ‘Our Town’

Jan 23, 2020

In the small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, the citizens go about their daily lives at the turn of the century.

Starting in 1901 and going until 1913, Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” is the most performed play in the United States. It centers around two families; the Gibbs family and Webb family. One is a doctor and the other is the editor of the newspaper.

“It’s a wonderful look at American life at the time as well as a tremendous look at life lessons,” said Pat Burk, director. “Things that people still are dealing and struggling with today.”

“Our Town” is one of Burk’s favorite plays, and one he has wanted to do for years. He said the characters are very well defined, and there is a range of them. The play puts a lot of emphasis on the words, with “Our Town” presented on a very basic set and virtually no props.

“The dialogue is beautiful. The scenes between the parents and the children are so touching. The storyline is so inclusive of a wide range of people from economically, socially and where they stand in the community,” he said. “It’s just a really good and wonderful depiction of American life.”

There is a cast of 25, and Burk had multiple people approach him saying they’ll do any part in the show — the actors really wanted to be part of the production.

MalloryAnn Flanagan plays Julia Gibbs, George’s mother, who is a “typical mother of the time.”

“She’s very selfless. She always thinks of her family first. She’s the type of mother who is up ready to go for the day before anyone else, so they can have a hot breakfast when they get out of the house,” she said. “But she’s also kind of silly and playful.”

Flanagan said she sees a lot of herself in Julia as she’s a mother to three kids, so she knows how difficult it can be sometimes to have everything together. She said it’s sometimes nice in a play to say the words you think on your own sometimes about your own life, but don’t say out loud. To an outside observer putting family first can seem stressful or tiring, she said, but to a mother that’s what you do and who you are. But there are other parts to Julia beyond being a mom — she’s part of the choir in town and likes going out with her friends.

Flanagan first experienced “Our Town” when she was 11 or 12, and her older brother performed as George in a Batavia production. She fell in love with the story and concept of there is beauty in simple things, which is the message of the play. Her sister, Karen, also directed it one year for the high school drama club about a decade ago.

“It’s a show that’s always been in the back of my mind as one of my favorites. I love the message, the third act especially where it hits the message home about appreciating what you have because you won’t have it forever,” Flanagan said.

Christina Brown, plays Wally Webb, the younger brother of Emily Webb, and a baseball player. Brown said Wally seems a bit snooty to her, but both characters are in the background.

She had no experience with “Our Town” prior to performing in the play, but decided to join the Batavia Players production because she has been doing theater at Batavia High School.

“(“Our Town”) is an entertaining show for myself to watch in the background,” Brown said. “I don’t do very much, so it’s a little boring for me personally. But I think it’s an all around good show, and the cast is awesome.”

Steven Larkin plays Simon Stimson, the choir director and the town drunk.

“The way the play is put out is that is supposed to show different sides, the spectrum, of town life from the happy moments to the not so happy moments,” he said. “I would kind of put Simon as a representation of the later. He’s not necessarily shown as a happy individual, which is probably a leading cause of his alcoholism.”

Larkin said he had to think on Simon the most to get into character. He said there is a lot going on with him that doesn’t get shown in the play, so you gotta sit and think on it.

“The whole play is very thought provoking,” he said.

Larkin said he wouldn’t be surprised if the audience first got bored of the mundane, small quality of life events happening. He said it doesn’t really click until the end, and then it changes your entire perspective of the “boring stuff” which was happening in the beginning of the play.

Colin Fleming-Stumpf, who plays Dr. Frank Gibbs, George’s father, said his character is supportive of his son’s relationship with Emily, and friends with everyone in the town.

In his involvement with The Batavia Players, he said he keeps an eye out for shows he would be interested in and always loved “Our Town.” Fleming-Stumpf has seen it a lot of times, and loves its simplicity.

“I think given how busy and fractured everyone’s life is now, and how distracted we all are between technology and social media, and all these things, it’s a really good play to see, just because it’s a stark contrast from that,” he said. “I think it’s really beneficial I guess.”

Brianna Jones plays Louella Soames, town gossip and choir member. Jones likes to imagine where Louella gets her gossip.

“I see her being more extroverted than the other characters because the time period it’s in, everyone is a lot more reserved and to themselves almost,” she said.

Jones had read “Our Town” in college, and when she saw Batavia Players would be putting it on, she was excited. She said it was a show she was aware of but didn’t know much about; which is why she liked doing period pieces. She enjoys researching and learning new things.

One of the things she learned while researching the time period was that people wore more muted and tone downed clothing. Women were in skirts and the older men were in suits.

“I think it’s a lot more interesting than I’ve seen people give it credit for,” Jones said. “I think it’s a little more deeper than it is as face value.”

By Mallory Diefenbach, Batavia Daily News