The cast of “Our Town” brings the community to life on stage
This is what the community looks like.
I’m on a Zoom call with five DC actors: four are sitting together in a Shakespeare Theater Company (STC) in Barracks Row, and one of them phones during her bus ride. As I reflect on STC’s next production of “Our city,opening on May 12, they finish each other’s sentences, continually make each other laugh, and listen intently to each response. It’s the equivalent of hitting the gold mine in feature journalism: when the conversation essentially carries itself and the writer manages to ride the wave as the story unfolds. takes place.
This particular version of Pulitzer Prize-winning “Our Town,” delivering a meta-script about the cyclical nature of humanity, has been highly anticipated by the DC theater community. An eclectic group of cast stalwarts and newcomers to the local scene have banded together for what STC bills as a reunion for DC actors. From Susie Richard (Joe Stoddard) speaking openly about her career as a disabled actress at Eric Hisson (Dr. Gibbs) applauding STC for its varied casting choices, my hour with the cast members covered a lot of ground.
Chinna Palmer (Emily Webb) Christopher Michael Richardson (Howie Newsome) and Larry Redmond (Simon Stimson) brought just as much candor and intentionality to the conversation. Although the age range and experience level of the actors spans decades, they remain aligned on all fronts – from their appreciation of STC’s Associate Artistic Director Alain Paulfrom the collaborative style of the mirror that this piece offers the public to invite introspection.
And while not all viewers will be as geeky as me for this homecoming, audiences will feel the vibes of joy from this group of actors who can’t wait to tTake the stage with their peers and make their city our city for just a few hours.
District Fray: What drew you to this production of “Our Town”? Why did you know you had to?
China Palmer: It’s beautiful for so many different reasons, but it also has a big purpose in terms of its message: “Live your life and appreciate those people and things around you while you can.” It spoke to me a lot. Performing in front of a live audience is like nothing else – no matter where you do it or what you’re working on. Feeling this synergy of people in the same room sharing an experience is one of a kind. I’m thrilled to be back, and with such a cast of veterans who have already taught me so much. I can not wait.
Susie Richard: I’m so excited to do this show. I haven’t had much success getting equity roles in this town, but that’s also because I don’t go out and audition. I’m used to people who have nothing to do with fairness calling me up and getting me in and reading me or offering me roles. I got really lazy, so now I’m like, “Why isn’t anyone throwing me?” [Now] I’m lucky to work with the actors I’ve always loved in this city.
Larry Redmond: I came late to this company. The truth is, when I saw the company as it was listed, I was like, “God, I want to be with them, but I’m going to ruin it. If I was in this band, I would ruin this perfect band as it is right now. So now I’m here to ruin the band. [Richard laughs]
Eric Hissom: This show and this cast and the fact that we’ve already had difficulty rescheduling the start – there’s a lot of goodwill and resilience here. It’s an amazing piece that can feel over the top or sentimental. It’s a play that high schools and community theaters do a lot, and most of us have played or seen one. But it’s really quite deep and difficult. Every day it’s like trying to figure out the puzzle of this room. It’s a bit elusive for all its simplicity. It’s deceptively difficult in a good way, and I look forward to it.
Palm : I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t bring up the scheduling issue and that’s such a huge part of why I continued on the show. The way this cast stuck together to make sure we stayed in this unit — because we were so uniquely cast on the show — I was just in awe and amazement. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected in the theater community. We hadn’t even started rehearsals, but I already felt like such a family with this city – our city.
Alan Paul has an excellent reputation for his innovative interpretations of classical works and his collaborative approach. How has it been working with him so far?
Hissom: He’s just a passionate, smart, funny, self-deprecating presence in the room. It’s very collaborative, which is what this show needs to be.
Richard: He keeps saying, “I just have to take a step back and drop this cast because you know what you’re doing.” And then he has very specific ideas, which is wonderful. He lets us play with this stuff, but I feel very protected.
Redmond: He is quite collaborative and very intelligent. And he trusts us, which is even better.
How will the proximity of the actors to each other translate on stage? Do you think the public will be able to feel this energy?
Richard: As soon as Alan posted the casting, I think I had 40 or 50 comments on my Facebook page. I got emails from people like, “Oh my god, I can’t wait. I’m such a fan of you. I’m like, ‘I have fans?’ shows, they’re like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing. I always feed off the energy of the audience.”
Redmond: And we’re going to face them on this show. We won’t be able to hide because it will be in the trick – you know, a lot of backting, a lot of butts in their faces. We will be in three dimensions. They will surround us and we will surround them.
Richard: I feel like audiences are going to feel like they’re part of the show, and that’s pretty cool.
What makes this production accessible to all audiences?
Palm : The message hit me because of the timing. It’s such a flawless game to make right now. It is a profound reflection of the past two years. We are always grateful to be able to do the show and for the audience members to come out. Plus, if anyone loves production value like me, this is definitely a show — especially for a show that’s so straightforward and written to be stripped down. It’s so imaginative. It’s great to be part of it. I can’t wait to invite my friends.
Richard: There is something about this show and the sweetness it gives to death. It’s really about examining what it is, and I think it appeals to everyone. We’ve all been trapped inside – and maybe lost someone – and we’re trying to figure out what that means. It’s just this period of upheaval, and people are behaving badly towards each other. “Our Town” is such a great way to bring in all the perspectives because this show is about a dying young man. I just think it’s a nice metaphor for that.
Hissom: It’s a racially diverse cast. I did a production of it in 2008, and we had a colorblind cast. This is more color sensitive as one of the families is African American and the other is Caucasian. There are other racial depictions throughout the play, but the two main families are two different races. I think it speaks to our moment and it’s something that we’re just starting to tap into in terms of what it means to us in this production.
Christopher Michael Richardson: Alan’s approach – it’s not super sentimental, it’s not super noble, it’s not something that’s put on a pedestal. We let these people be very real people with real lives and real questions about what it means to live and die – and do something with your life. I think these are questions we have right now: what are we doing? Is it worth it? There’s a microcosm of that in this little town, which is really great.
What makes you proud of DC’s theater scene and commits you to performing in our city?
Richard: DC theater is, from the bottom up, increasingly inclusive. That was a huge thing for me, having Alan call me and know that I’m going to be part of this diverse cast. I really appreciate that, and I think DC is an amazing petri dish for that. I was called by friends [who are] like, “I just auditioned, but I think you’d be perfect for the part.” That’s how our city works when it comes to theater, and I think Equity Theaters reflects that. I’m excited to be here and trying to start raising awareness in my community. I can’t even explain what magic is about here, but it’s an extended family to all of us and we support each other. By the way, I need the money. [Everyone laughs]
Palm : I am okay. DC was an amazing place to land in terms of starting my career and branching out from here. It’s really sleepy in terms of theatrical community because it’s so well balanced.
What aspect of “Our Town” made you excited to be part of the cast?
Richard: I fan girl from time to time in this production. It would be nice if I calm this down. [Laughs]
Redmond: It’s in awe of all the people I don’t know, like Chinna – the actors I haven’t had the opportunity to work with.
Hissom: I have a lot of excitement for my first show at Shakespeare. It’s written to be stripped down and minimalistic, but the design is impeccable. I love my costumes and I love the way the costume design looks. So come see him for that, if nothing else.
Redmond: And you will see all parts of Eric – front and back.
Palm : I am very excited by the reaction of the public. This will probably be my last show in DC for a bit after college, so I cherish this time with these people.
Richardson: The specific section of the DC theatrical community that is represented in this show is especially powerful, because not only are we DC actors, but [some of us] are also teachers. We really get a cross section of people who have been doing theater their whole lives, bringing that excellence to the stage and also bringing that community with them. [This production] can hopefully be a homecoming for theater patrons who can see themselves and the things they missed in this very fine, all-American genre of play with very good acting. I can’t wait for the audience to have the chance to experience what the community is like on stage in a very intentional way.
“Our Town” runs from May 12 to June 11. Tickets start at $49. Get tickets here.
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