Janesville's Armory to present Thornton Wilder classic 'Our Town'

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Jake Magee
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

JANESVILLE—It's “Our Town” by our town.

That's the message a group of local actors and Janesville natives hopes to send while performing what director Matt Imhoff calls “America's most famous play.”

“Our Town,” written by Thornton Wilder, is a play about daily life, love and marriage and death and eternity in a single town. The production is set in Grover's Corner, New Hampshire, but its story is that of every town the world over, Imhoff said.

Not only that, but the narrative touches on the tragedy of not being fully appreciative of life. The play is a call to be more conscious and appreciative of what you have and of those you love, he added.

What makes the Armory's upcoming production special is the ties “our town” has to “Our Town.” Imhoff is a Janesville native and Craig High School graduate who moved to New York City to design theater stages and sets. He returned to his hometown to direct “Our Town.”

While a few actors come from Madison, most hail from Rock County. Producer Brett Frazier said that was intentional.
“Almost everyone in 'Our Town' is from our town,” he said. “We had always wanted to do it that way.”

Add to that the fact that Wilder was born in Madison, which gives the play an even greater local tie, Frazier said.

“Even though it's set in Grover's Corner, New Hampshire, if you sit through the play, you'll see evidence of that Wisconsin upbringing,” he said. “There's a level of familiarity there.”

Something else makes “Our Town” exciting: It's the first non-musical the Armory has undertaken. Plays, especially those such as “Our Town,” tend to be a harder sell because they ask the audience to think rather than to just sit back and be entertained, Imhoff said.

“They're something that require you to really feel the play, to really examine what it is that it's asking you to do,” he said. “In this play, it's asking you to look at your own life … and appreciate the everyday. That's scary for an audience.”

“Our Town” is special in the sense that no matter where you are in life, you'll be able to draw something from the performance. The show is impactful for theatergoers ranging from children to the elderly, both Frazier and Imhoff said.

“I think, no matter what stage of your life that you're at, the show provides a touchstone into the exact moment of your life that you're at and nostalgically allows you to look back at your own life through these characters,” Imhoff said.

Wilder wrote the characters not as caricatures but as archetypes typical of every town. The playwright found something “constant and common” in what it is to be human, and Rock County's own will show audiences what that means when the play premieres next week.

“Everybody who comes to this show will take something else away from it,” Frazier said

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