ORONO, Maine — Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” holds a special place in Sandy Cyrus’ heart. Twenty years ago, when she was teaching at American University in Bulgaria with her late husband, Al Cyrus, a beloved University of Maine theatre professor, he directed the play with his students. It was the last play he directed before his death in 1993.
“It’s always been very important to me. There’s a lot of memories there,” said Sandy Cyrus, director of Orono Community Theatre. “I’ve never felt quite right doing it, until now”
Cyrus said she has hesitated to tackle the play with the community theatre, but on the 20th anniversary of her husband’s production of the show she felt now was the time. “Our Town” will open at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Keith Anderson Community Center on Bennoch Road, and run through Dec. 2.
Wilder’s sad, beautiful tale of the people, living and dead, of Grover’s Corner, N.H., has remained a staple of professional and community American theatre since it was first staged nearly 75 years ago. Though much of the story rests on the shoulders of young townsfolk Emily Webb and George Gibbs, played here by Jessie Walker and Will Martin, and the stage manager, played by University of Maine engineering major Michael Cloutier, the cast is in total comprised of 23 people from the Orono area, cast as families and friends, husbands and wives, parents and children. It’s truly a community, and family, affair.
“I think there are a lot of parallels you can draw between the world of Grover’s Corner and our lives here in Orono,” said Judy Walker of Orono, who plays one of the deceased townsfolk. “The dynamics in relationships between men and women and parents and children has changed, certainly, but small towns are small towns. We still go to the grocery store and pharmacy. We still know everyone.”
Walker is in the play with her husband, Bill Walker (Constable Warren), and her daughter, Jessie Walker, who plays a leading role as Emily Webb. There are a total of four real-life families, in fact, who are in the show together. In addition to the Walkers, the show includes Orono mother and daughter Louise Jolliffe and Elsa Jolliffe Saunders (a dead woman, and Rebecca Gibbs, respectively), Holden sisters Adelaide (11) and Rosie Ross (15), playing townspeople, and Elaine Bard and her sons Logan (16) and Quinn (7), of Bangor, who play Mrs. Webb, Sam Craig and Wally Webb, respectively.
“I think it’s nice [to work with your family] because when you go home, you don’t stop working on the play,” said Jessie Walker, 12, an Orono Middle School student. “We run lines. We give each other critiques. You would never probably get that otherwise.”
Being in a theater family means that outside of school, you live, breathe and eat theater, at rehearsal, at the dinner table and before bed. Elaine Bard’s three sons, Logan, Quinn and 5-year-old Ferris, have all had their share of star time. Logan was just seen in Ten Bucks Theatre’s production of “Rabbit Hole,” and Quinn was Young Tommy in Husson University’s production of “Tommy” last year, and he stars alongside John Slattery and Margo Martindale in the upcoming feature film “Bluebird,” filmed in northern Maine last winter and set to be released in January at the Sundance Film Festival.
“More than just our own family, I think the theater community in the Bangor area is incredibly strong and supportive,” said Elaine Bard. “We all help each other.”
“I think part of what makes ‘Our Town’ still relevant is part of what we see in our own communities,” said Sandy Cyrus. “Even in our own theater community, we all know each other. We’re all in the same shows. It’s a big family.”
And with that in mind, cast members are keenly aware of the play’s central message — that life must be treasured, because it’s gone before you know it.
“I think that’s definitely stuck with me, through the process of doing this play,” said Logan Bard. “You’ve got to enjoy every minute of it.”
“Our Town” will be performed at 7 p.m. Nov. 29-Dec. 1 and 2 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Keith Anderson Community Center, Bennoch Road, Orono. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for students and seniors. The show is made possible by a grant from the Maine Community Foundation Theatre Fund, and Orono-Old Town Kiwanis. There will be a potluck supper prior to the show on Nov. 29 at the Orono Senior Center, and after the Dec. 2 matinee there will be a holiday festival in downtown Orono. For more information, visit Orono Community Theatre on Facebook.