‘Our Town’: HHS presents classic story of love and lossThis year’s spring production at Hudson High School is “Our Town,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Thornton Wilder about love and loss in a small town.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
This year’s spring production at Hudson High School is “Our Town,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Thornton Wilder about love and loss in a small town.
For many in the young cast, the play is the first drama they have acted in on the school stage and everyone seems to appreciate the chance to portray both the serious and not-so-serious side of small town life.
Freshman Ruby Johnson plays Emily Webb, the young woman at the center of the story who goes from carefree teenager to young wife to issues of life and death. Johnson said she likes her character, even admires her as atypical for girls in early years of the 20th century.
“It was definitely a man’s world in those days but Emily was ambitious and intelligent, and who knows what she would have become or done,” said Johnson. “Even though things were very different for girls my age back then, there are some similarities between us, especially when it comes to how she feels about the people she loves and the things she wants to do.”
The fate of her character made Johnson consider the fragility of life. “It’s made me think about death and our own mortality. That’s a big focus of the story and you can’t help but think about how fast life goes by. She’s only 16 and her life comes full circle. That’s made her very interesting to play.”
Johnson is the daughter of Catherine and Jason Barthman of Hudson.
Colin Eral, 17, plays George Gibbs, the show’s leading man. The HHS junior says he can relate to George’s world which includes a love of baseball, a carefree sense of humor and falling in love. “He’s a lot more proper than I am but he has a lot of the same emotions and basic experiences as guys do today. That makes him a lot of fun to play.”
Eral says he had to refer to some sad moments in his own life to create the sense of loss George feels when the worst happens. “That part was really challenging. You have to block out everything else and think only about what it would feel like to lose the most important person in your life. That’s something I’ve never had to do on stage before.”
Eral is the son of John and Jamie Eral of Hudson.
Zoe Vnak, 17, plays Myrtle Webb, Emily’s mother. The HHS junior says Mrs. Webb likes to be “in control.”
“She can appear very brusque, lecturing a lot and kind of prudish but times were different then,” said Vnak. She found herself remembering mother characters she’d watched on television growing up. “The mothers on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and the ‘Waltons’ kind of come to mind but then there are things that I think must just come with being a mother —wanting the best for your kids and worrying about them.”
This is Vnak’s first experience in a dramatic role and she finds it is much different experience from being in a comedy or musical. “All kinds of emotions come to the surface. You are really trying to connect to both the head and the heart. It is a different style of acting.”
She is the daughter of Chris and Julie Vnak of Hudson.
Sophomore Jordan Stewart play’s Mrs. Gibbs, George’s mother. She found the role reversal from daughter to parent fun to play. “The times were different but a lot of things are universal. She can yell and do all that but then she can be very emotional and a very loving parent especially at the wedding. And she is a lot harder on her daughter than George.”
She said there are several scenes in the play that are challenging to play but none more so than the death scene that involves almost the entire cast. “It was difficult at first. You have to clear your mind of everything and sit there, stone-faced with no emotion or reaction. It’s a really interesting experience.”
Stewart is the daughter of Jennifer Driscoll and Philip Stewart, both of Hudson.
Senior Nick Vanden Heuvel plays a parent as well. As Charles Webb, the editor of the local paper, Vanden Heuvel enjoys playing the loving father of Emily. “He’s a good man and he gives good advice. I thought about my own dad when I was preparing and how he would react in the same situation.”
He also drew on personal experience for the scenes of loss in the play. “I remembered how I felt when I lost someone from my family. You have to concentrate and recall those feelings. I think that is what makes the play so real — that he calls on emotions and feelings we all understand.”
Vanden Heuvel is the son of Gail and Dan Vanden Heuvel.
Senior Ehren Kluge likes playing Dr. Frank Gibbs, George’s father. “He’s kind of a calm guy and humorous. He’s always teasing his wife and those are fun scenes when we are going back and worth. They make the relationship seem very real. And he seems to always speak from the heart.”
Kluge, too, drew on his family as inspiration for his role. “I have an uncle who is very much like Dr. Gibbs, him…and Morgan Freeman, the actor.” It was also interesting playing someone with a “1900 view of the world.”
Kluge said the death scenes in the play have made a big impression on him as well. “I’ve never done anything like that before but personal experiences with pain and loss really helped me with my character.”
He is the son of Todd and Linda Kluge of Hudson.
Travis Schultz, a junior, plays the stage manager, the character that narrates the three-act play and acts as a go-between for the actors and the audience.
Schultz says his role not only connects the audience to the stage but also sets the mood, something that changes dramatically between the second and third acts. “He really sets all that up. People kind of depend on him to get them through this kind of tough transition. The more we’ve rehearsed the more I think I know why Wilder did it this way.”
The cast all agreed that the minimalist set and lack of props in “Our Town” has been a rewarding challenge as actors. With only a few chairs, tables and a couple of ladders, the actors pantomime everything they do from stringing beans to eating to preparing for a wedding.
Said Johnson, “I think Wilder wanted the audience to focus on the story, on what the characters were saying, not by the props they were handling. He didn’t want the tasks of daily life to distract them from what was going on.”
Said Eral, “I started to notice how I did everything — what it felt like to pick something up or do something. It’s been an interesting experience.”
Audiences can see the results for themselves the weekend of March 30-April 1. Performances are Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults. Call HHS for ticket information at (715) 377-3800 or go online at www.hudson.k12.wi.us and click on Hudson High School.