We’re four reviews into press coverage for Our Suburb which opened, of course, just before the Christmas week and has played a little havoc with the roll-out of reviews. The first two out of the box were beautifully written hosannas to the play and arrived within 24 hours of our opening. The Washington Post attended the Sunday afternoon preview, electing to miss opening night and cover Gypsy at Signature Theatre instead. Huge differences in the quality of audience response between the Sunday matinee and evening Opening night crowd. Alas. That difference is reflected in the tone and engagement of the review, even as many a critic will maintain they’re not influenced by the laughter or quality of engagement around them. In fairness, both of our Sunday performances were strong, though Sunday night’s was the coalescing of all elements, including jaunty humor with a permission to improvise given to our on stage Stage Manager which connected like wild-fire Sunday night. Theater’s a tender alchemy, and a roll of the dice Wheel of Fortune. Lorraine Treanor’s weekly wrapup on DC TheatreScene says of our production:
“. . . what might just become a classic for any time of year, the world premiere Our Suburb now at Theater J.”
And yet The Post seems to yawn, with the header “Humdrum Homage to Our Town” splashed above the fold on p.1 of the Style section. We’re reminded of New York Times critic Brook Atkinson’s rave for the original production of Our Town in 1938 when he wrote:
“Mr. Wilder has transmuted the simple events of human life into universal reverie. He has given familiar facts a deeply moving, philosophical perspective. Staged without scenery and with the curtain always up, Our Town has escaped from the formal barrier of the modern theatre into the quintessence of acting, thought and speculation…. On one side of an imaginary street Dr. Gibbs and his family are attending to their humdrum affairs with relish and probity. But by stripping the play of everything that is not essential, Mr. Wilder has given it a profound, strange, unworldly significance. This is less the portrait of a town than the sublimation of the commonplace; and in contrast with the universe that silently swims around it, it is brimming over with compassion. Most of it is a tender idyll in the kindly economy of Mr. Wilder’s literary style; some of it is heartbreaking in the mute simplicity of human tragedy.”
Raves for Darrah Cloud’s world premiere Our Suburb include this superbly written 5-STAR review from DC Metro Theatre Arts by John Stoltenberg: “Avid and discerning theatergoers seeking a fresh take on a beloved classic will not find a more rewarding gift this time of year than Our Suburb, brilliantly directed by Judith Ivey, which just opened like a wonderful present at Theater J. This beautiful brand-new play—which playwright Darrah Cloud modeled loosely on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town—is so full of honest human heart, humor, hurt, and hope that it is destined to become a classic for all seasons.”
The next rave comes in from DC Theatre Scene’s other Treanor, Tim Treanor, who delves deeply into the craftsmanship of Cloud’s innovative spin off Wilder. Here’s his review with its “Highly Recommended” commendation. “Cloud crafts her story with great delicacy and care and gets every nuance right. She tracks Wilder’s original with unerring accuracy (even finding a parallel to Joe Crowell, who delivers the papers to the Gibbs and the Webbs in James J. Johnson as L.C. Minor, an entrepreneur who delivers groceries to the two families and enlists Mrs. Majors’ help in writing his letters to the editor.) But she does so with wit, a sense of purpose, and an irresistible impulse toward high drama. ”
Next rave is Maryland Theatre Guide calling the world premiere a “a thoughtful, powerful work.”
And then there’s today’s Washington Post review. The headline in the digital edition that came out last night says, “‘Our Town’ Repaved in ‘Our Suburb’” while this morning’s print edition sports the headline “A Humdrum Homage to ‘Our Town.'” A different impact, to be sure. In thinking of the Atkinson rave invoking the “humdrum” in the original New York Times review, we’re also reminded of the first out-of-town review for Our Town up in Boston a few weeks prior to the New York opening. A New York press agent recalls the Boston Globe pan of the play: “[Our Town’s] reception was so chilly and attendance so wretched that the two-week engagement was pared to one. The American Athens wanted no truck with a play without scenery. To Beacon Hill Brahmins, such an omission was as confusing as tackling a grapefruit without a spoon.” Read all about the inauspicious Boston opening of what would become the Broadway Humdrum Hit here at The Houghton Library Blog of Harvard University.