Set in a New Hampshire town at the turn of the 20th century, Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer prize-winning play, "Our Town," follows a decade in the lives of the Gibbs and Webb families.
And Westfield High will bring it to the stage Friday-Saturday, Nov. 11-12, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m. at Westfield High. Tickets are $10; call 703-488-6439 or order online at www.westfieldtheatreboosters.com.
"This is the first in our season of American classics," said theater director Scott Pafumi. "Through our productions this year, we're focusing on plays and musicals written by American playwrights and showcasing the American experience."
There's a cast of 40, and junior Sarah Pike, 16, plays Emily Webb, who falls in love with George Gibbs. The play brings the audience into the everyday life of the town, from 1901 to about 1940, and shows how the couple's love develops over the years.
"Emily's an ambitious girl who has her own ideas and is not afraid to express them," said Pike. "She works hard for her grades and has an innocence about her. She's the stereotypical, all-around, good girl. She's nice to people, has lots of friends and is popular in school."
Pike said her character has relationships with so many people in the play, that she's also started forming friendships with them in real life. She said the part's easy because "we're very similar. I'm a standard, high-school girl, awkward around guys and academically driven. And that's why this is such a classic play — any human being forms the same relationships, no matter where they live."
Pike said it's an emotional role, but "you have to be where the character is, in order for it to be realistic." She said the audience will know and enjoy the wide variety of modern music in the show, as well as the "great visual — a little movie within the play — that Mr. Pafumi is doing, featuring his own kids."
Senior Will Quinn, 17, plays George Gibbs, who's about the same age as him, at the start of the play. "He's the All-American kid," said Quinn. "He's on the baseball team, gets good grades and is going places with his life. He's a nice person, well-liked by the community, and he has a strong conscience."
Quinn said it's fun playing George because he enjoys working with Pike and he portrays a nice character: "It's not big and flamboyant, but real and honest and gives me a chance to work on my acting skills." And he's pleased that George is "such a classic character to play. Lots of people have played him, over the years, so it's fun to tap into him and see what I can bring to the character."
He believes the audience will like "Our Town" because it has such a "beautiful meaning behind it, that it's hard not to feel something. I think it'll really touch people and make them re-evaluate how to live their own lives and learn to embrace life fully."
Portraying his mother, Mrs. Gibbs, is senior Ashley Dillard, 17. "She's down-to-earth, outspoken, caring — the mom who helps people in their close-knit town," she said. "She's busy and social with all the other women and has an outgoing personality."
She said it's fun playing a mom and she and her on-stage husband, Barry Armbruster, work well together. She also likes feeling as if she has a relationship with everyone in the town.
Dillard says the audience will like the honesty of George and Emily's characters "and how much we really try to pull you into the town and its daily life. It's a refreshing change to the more complicated shows we've done in the past."
As George's father, Armbruster, a senior, says he's "an upright individual — the good doctor of Grover's Corners. He's comfortable where he is and [takes pleasure in] getting up, drinking coffee, seeing his wife and treating patients. He's the dad everybody wants to have."
Armbruster says this father is very real. "I hope to make people in the audience recognize him and identify his traits as ones their own fathers have," he explained. Since the show's scenery is intentionally minimal, he said, "The whole, no-set-and-props thing is very challenging, remembering where everything is and trying to make a prop that's not there seem real to the audience."
But he said it's "fun to work with the actors who are the members of my family. And the audience will love it; it really hits close to home. It's a very powerful show and reminds us to enjoy life while we still have it."
Senior Brian Randall, 18, plays Emily's father. "He's the politician who didn't make it," he said. "It's a conservative town and he's a liberal person. He writes and edits the town paper and loves his family very much. He cares a lot about the town and is always trying to help people."
Randall likes his character's fatherly humor. He said it's a bit tough "trying to be a realistic father, as a boy." But he enjoys the warm relationship his character has with his wife: "It's a good, sweet marriage." He, too, believes this classic, American play will resonate with the audience and says, "The performances of Will Quinn and Sarah Pike are phenomenal. They're both very believable and amazing actors."
As stage managers, seniors Branson Reese and Natalie McLarty narrate the show. "We look at the story in different ways and bring different points of view to it," said McLarty. "It's back-and-forth dialogue between us. We [set] the scenes and, a lot of time, we provide insight into what happens in the future. Branson looks at the darker aspects, and I have the more optimistic, lighter view of things."
"We talk directly to the audience," said Reese. "I like exploring the subtleties of my character and finding personality to inject into his lines. And it's interesting seeing how the lines change, depending on who's saying and interpreting them."
Senior Kevin Manship plays Simon Stimson, the troubled, town choir director. "He's an alcoholic with marital problems and is far different from any other role I've ever played because he's the polar opposite of comedic relief," said Manship. "But I like playing it because my good friend Laura Fraase plays my wife and we get to perform a lot of the music live in the show, including our own arrangement of 'The Book of Love' by Peter Gabriel and 'I'll Follow You' by Death Cab for Cutie."
Senior Ian Burns plays Baker Cartwright, the wealthiest person in town. "His family is the first to own a Ford," said Burns. "He reminds me of the Monopoly man — refined and in his own world. And I like the fact that I'm supposed to have a monocle."
Ben Reese, 15, is on the high-school baseball team with George. "He's kinda immature," he said. "But he's fun to play because he's a goofy character. Sarah Cowdery, 15, portrays Rebecca Gibbs, Emily's little sister. "She manages everyone's business, but still has the innocence of a little girl," she said. "I love being a sibling, and I look up to my big brother and family, on and off stage."
As stage manager, Tara DeVincenzo, 17, calls cues to the actors and also oversees the show's technical aspects. She loves her job and hopes to someday do it professionally. She says it's sometimes hard "getting the proper respect" from her peers, but she likes being in charge of things and interacting with the cast members and costume mistresses.
Technical director Cheryl Cordingley, 17, is in charge of set building and oversees sound, lights, props and costumes. "It's a rake stage, where the acting is done on an incline, like in Shakespeare's time," she said. "It's a big challenge and a learning experience for the tech crew because we're building the stage floor, and it's something really different."
Dan Hrebenak, 16, is helping paint and build the set. "In the graveyard scene, you can see all the people on stage and hear the ones in the back row better," he said. "I'm excited about the rake stage because Westfield hasn't done it before and I think it's going to go really well with this play."