Arts & Entertainment

West Orange High School Students Bring "Our Town" to Life

Principal Hayden Moore and Drama Teacher Wendy Mapes. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Khalil Louigene and Shanell Chambliss play George Gibbs and Emily Webb. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Kate Myerson is the narrator. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
A large supporting cast adds depth to the production. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Emily and George are married. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Rachel Favetta and Vincent Means play the Gibbs. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Kai McCall and Julian Adams play the Webbs. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
The departed. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Students involved in the West Orange High School (WOHS) Drama Department took to the stage this weekend to perform Thornton Wilder’s drama “Our Town,” a three-act play consisting of little-to-no props—allowing the actors to shine.

Directed by WOHS drama teacher Wendy Mapes and produced by Debra Coen, “Our Town” centers on the small American town of Grover’s Corners, NH over the ten-year period between 1901 and 1913, where a classic boy-likes-girl story occurs for the first two acts. The third act takes a sharp turn, delving into the meaning of life, and questions whether life has any meaning at all.

WOHS Rachel Favetta, who portrayed the character Mrs. Gibbs on stage, said rehearsals for the production were intense—beginning in September with five rehearsals a week and increasing to six per week for the final month. She said she and her peers worked “insanely hard” to understand and connect with their characters.

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“The Gibbs and Webbs families would have to sit in a room and pretend we were in family therapy and really connect with one another,” she said as an example. “The atmosphere depends on the show—because for ‘Our Town,’ the show was very touching and meaningful, but usually people are only interested in the music and not the actual plot, so it is hard for them to stay intrigued. The actors work very hard because they really have to analyze their characters and break them down, and can’t rely on the songs they sing.”

Since Favetta’s character ultimately dies off stage while visiting her daughter, Emily (played by Gabrielle LeCour), Favetta said she went on an emotional roller coaster with this production.

“Not only was I playing a mother and seeing what my mom goes through everyday, but I also got to experience Thornton Wilder’s opinion on what the afterlife is like, and how much we as live human beings take things for granted and don’t realize how much we have until it is gone,” said Favetta. “It was such an eye-opening experience.”

Wilder’s “Our Town” was first performed in January of 1938. Since then, the drama has become the most-performed play in the United States and has also received the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival, and the 1989 Tony Award for Best Revival.

Although “Our Town” is not a musical and has very few set pieces—causing the actors to rely on more slow-paced, verbal storytelling rather than bright, loud, visual storytelling—that is not to say the stage crew had an easier job. Despite the show involving less visual substance, tech support member Isabelle Bise said that did not hinder the experience for the crew.

“It is always nice to come in,” she said. “Even though tech only comes on the week of the show, it is not easy. Technically, we have three days to notice any errors with sound before the shows. It is a wonderful experience working with tech.”

Bise said that being on the crew develops and strengthens skills like listening and time management. She also said that strong personal relationships are developed among the crew since there are so few members.

“Mr. Roberts and Ms. G are wonderful teachers that make jokes and are always willing to correct your mistakes and show you what needs to be done,” she said. “They are very encouraging and great teachers to spend time with on the weekends. It is the same for Ms. Mapes, Ms. Cohen, Ms. Reece and everyone else. Overall, the shows bring together many people and it is like a family.”

Special moments from this year’s production of “Our Town” are seen above. 

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