“When you put on a good show, everyone remembers it—creative team, actors, audience. ‘Our Town’ is a good show,” said Phil Jordan (a.k.a. Doc Gibbs in WICA’s current production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” running through Saturday, June 21).
This deceptively simple play is no less than a love letter to small-town life. Written in 1938, the playwright evokes an earlier time, yet never lapses into sentimentality. Wilder’s love for Main Street USA does not go unrequited; although the playwright died in 1975, “Our Town” is performed somewhere in America at least once a day every day.
Jordan is extraordinarily pleased to be part of the performance here on Whidbey Island.
Schooled in creative dramatics as a child, Jordan appeared in several productions at Seattle’s Roosevelt High before majoring in acting at the University of Montana. Discouraged by the relentless self-promotion required in the acting profession, he took a hiatus that lasted 20 years. “I felt I’d hit a wall artistically.”
Moving to Clinton in 2008 ended his self-imposed exile from the theatre world. “When I arrived here, I immediately auditioned. I jumped in with both feet.” The welcome he received from the island theatre community caused Jordan to dust off his directing skills. After appearing in several local productions, Jordan decided to try directing “Blythe Spirit,” WICA’s first play of the current season.
“I always wanted to direct,” commented Jordan. “Actors have an understanding of how they fit in the play, but it’s hard for an actor to get the bigger picture.”
Directing, Jordan rediscovered, came with its own particular challenges. “Theatre is a collaborative art. Theatre is story telling. When several people pull in several directions, things can go awry. The director’s job is to get everyone telling the same story.”
Jordan credits Deana Duncan, WICA’s Programming and Production Director, with helping him ease back into directing. “As a director, you try to understand what makes the story tick. You try to communicate your vision of the story to the creative team—set, lighting, and costume designers.” According to Jordan, that’s just the beginning. “The creative team has its vision gelled before the actors walk through the door—bringing their own talents and personalities to the story.”
The differences between acting and directing don’t stop there.
“As an actor, you don’t direct other actors, because you’re working hard to understand your own character, to comprehend a life that isn’t your life. In most productions, a deep camaraderie develops between the actors; during rehearsals, you are putting yourself out there for everyone to see. By definition, the director stands outside that.”
No matter who does what, mounting a play is an enormous act of trust by everyone involved.
“We all go through life seeking special, intimate relationships. Theatre demands you go there faster,” observed Jordan.
For the 26-member cast of ‘Our Town’—ranging from the very young to the fairly old—those relationships have proven to be particularly rich. Perhaps quixotically, the ensemble has become its very own small town, due in part to director Tim Rarick’s sensitive interpretation and palpable love for the characters, the setting, the story.
It was Rarick who converted Jordan to the play.
“I read it when I was young, and I hated it. I thought it was oversimplified and silly,” Jordan recalls. “Now, I find it exceptionally well written and thoughtful. Tim brought me back to it. It’s a play that holds the specific and the universal at the same time. It’s a play for people who have been alive for a while.”
In WICA’s production of “Our Town,” there is no curtain. There are few props. There is barely a set. But there is a moon. Featured prominently in “Our Town’s” publicity and production, the moon has a starring role in the sky and on the stage. Rounded, it rises over Georgia Gerber’s sculpture of boy and dog on the Langley waterfront. Apricot tinged, it hovers over the small-town folks who populate Thornton Wilder’s imagination. Eternal and luminous, it looks down on birth, on death, on the moments in between.
And “Our Town” looks right back.
Dianna MacLeod studied playwriting with the former dramaturg at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre. Her plays have been produced by The Women’s Theatre, included in the New City Playwrights Festival and performed by students of the Yale School of Drama. An alum of Hedgebrook, Dianna moved to the island in 2011.
Image at top: Phil Jordan as Doc Gibbs in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. (photo by Tyler Raymond)
NOTE: At the request of director Tim Rarick, there will be NO late seating for this production; please arrive by 7:15 to ensure your entrance into the theatre! The play runs approximately two hours, including two intermissions. Patrons who arrive late will be seated in front of the television screen to watch in the lobby until the next intermission begins.
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