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'Our Town' in black and white at Ford's Theatre

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Entertainment,Theater

"It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another." And so it goes, that sweet young Emily Webb must face her inevitable mortality. There's nothing new under the sun about "Our Town," yet the perennial American classic is given a glossy new treatment at Ford's Theatre under the enigmatic direction of Stephen Rayne.

Billed as the "75th anniversary production," Rayne's unembellished drama still leaves the work to the imagination of the viewer. Premiering in 1938, Wilder's play was an almost radical theatrical dare for audiences, who were invited into an imaginary world where there are no sets or furniture, just a collection of actors miming the everyday motions of delivering milk and cooking breakfast, stopping by the soda fountain for a drink and reading the newspaper. These are the daily rituals of the people who inhabit his sleepy, fictional New Hampshire town in 1901.

But here the stage isn't the only thing that's bare -- Rayne's antiseptic vision of "Our Town" is emotionally sparse, as well. Stretching out over three acts, this is an "Our Town" with a slightly modern bend -- the actors are all dressed in monotonous grey garb, a particularly underwhelming choice given Rayne's deliberately color-blind casting.

Onstage
'Our Town'
Where: Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW
Where: Through Feb. 24
Info: $15 to $62; 800-982-2787; fords.org

The Stage Manager is still our trusty guide through Grover's Corners, and here we are delivered by Portia, a black actress dressed in contemporary black loungewear. She gamely introduces us to James Konicek's and Jenn Walker's stately Doc and Mrs. Gibbs, and Craig Wallace's and Kimberly Schraf's sweetly doting Mr. and Mrs. Webb. Both couples are interracial, which lends itself nicely to the black and white pairing of Nickolas Vaughan's dark-skinned George with Alyssa Gagarin's paler Emily.

There are no blunders in the storytelling by Rayne's fine ensemble, which includes Tom Story and Kevin McAllister in smaller, but equally effective, character roles. His diverse cast still successfully captures prosaic snapshots of small-town Americana.

The problem here is that Wilder's work, while universal in its truths about love and death and what it ultimately means to be alive, is not exactly timeless -- there are well-defined period markers at every turn, sketching out a simpler time. So while we wade through the minutiae of the first two acts, it's a strained build-up to the poignancy of the final act, with its strikingly beautiful staging. Unfortunately, by that time, whatever message Rayne attempts to convey about race or culture or time is hopelessly lost in a drab sea of gray.

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