With ‘Our Town,’ Perseverance Theatre finds life in a classic

With ‘Our Town,’ Perseverance Theatre finds life in a classic

Performances make Wilder’s work fun

Grover’s Corners is a fine place to visit for an evening.

The fictional New Hampshire town is the setting of Thornton Wilder’s classic play “Our Town,” which officially opened Perseverance Theatre’s 40th season Friday with the full breadth of the human experience.

“Our Town” is an 80-year-old American standard, but its postmodern fourth wall breaking and time shifts still seem fresh.

Frank Henry Kaash Katasse portrayed the character of Stage Manager on Friday with genial warmth and comedy chops.

During the introduction to Grover’s Corners and the cast, which opens “Our Town,” Katasse introduced himself as “not Irene Bedard” because he was filling in for the Anchorage-born actor who will fill the role in the lion’s share of the production’s run.

Katasse’s response to learning the political makeup of the town from Brian Wescott’s studious and slightly dazed Mr. Webb helped ground an otherwise unknowable but all-knowing force.

The aloof energy added a casual humanity to an omniscient narrator often tasked with unloading unpleasant exposition onto the audience, and Katasse’s timing and facial expressions drew laughs in the earlier, lighter portions of the play.

Similarly, Perseverance Theatre’s all-Alaskan cast fully leans into the moments that would have been quaint even when the play set in the early 1900s was new in 1938.

Shadow Meienberg as Mrs. Gibbs gets to deliver several housewife-isms that June Cleaver would find old fashioned, and they were a hit with the mostly full theater opening night.

“All he thinks about is that baseball,” “I’ll come up and slap the both of you, that’s what I’ll do,” and “Seems to me at least once before you die you should visit a country where they don’t speak English and don’t even wanna,” all drew laughs.

Nearly the entirety of the first act of the play is filled with the pleasantness of meeting the town’s quaint but quirky occupants and encountering the nascent love story between Emily Webb and George Gibbs, portrayed respectively by Ashleigh Watt and Ty Yamaoka.

Young actors Watt and Yamaoka make their George and Emily a believably awkward young couple, and they each imbue their character’s interactions with their parents with a benevolent rebellion.

However, amid the fun, warnings that the buttermilk serenity of Grover’s Corner will curdle come early and often.

One character observes birth and death rate are constant, an instructor tells his choir to just die off toward the end of the second part of a song, and an envelope is addressed in a way that underscores the infinitesimally small niche man fills in the universe.

While it’s not unforeseen — especially for anyone who had Wilder as required reading in school — when the play takes a turn toward the dark, it is genuinely affecting.

Enrique Bravo’s New England-accented Dr. Gibbs, Caleb Bourgeois’ kind drunk Simon Stimson and Valorie Kissel’s stern Mrs.Webb feel lived-in — complete with foibles and pain.

The inevitable, grim conclusion comes across as sad but wholly unavoidable.

But there is an affirming seize-the-day message as a kind of counterbalance, and a reminder that another day to enjoy is coming up shortly are some of the show’s last words.

Thursday through Sundays during the next month, there will be another showing of “Our Town” to look forward to, too.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at 523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @benhohenstatt.


Valorie Kissel, left, as Mrs. Webb and Shadow Meienberg as Mrs. Gibbs perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Valorie Kissel, left, as Mrs. Webb and Shadow Meienberg as Mrs. Gibbs perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ashleigh Watt, left, as Emily, and Ty Yamaoka, as George, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ashleigh Watt, left, as Emily, and Ty Yamaoka, as George, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George and Erika Bergren as Rebecca perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George and Erika Bergren as Rebecca perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George, Ashleigh Watt as Emily, and Frank Katasse as the Stage Manager perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George, Ashleigh Watt as Emily, and Frank Katasse as the Stage Manager perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Felix Thillet, left, as Constable Warren, and Caleb Bourgeois, as Howie Newsome, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Felix Thillet, left, as Constable Warren, and Caleb Bourgeois, as Howie Newsome, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George, and Brían Wescott, as Mr. Webb, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Ty Yamaoka, left, as George, and Brían Wescott, as Mr. Webb, perform during “Our Town” at Perseverance Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

More in Home

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, speaks on the Senate floor on March 6. Gray-Jackson was the sponsor of a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
On Juneteenth, Gov. Dunleavy weighs adding a new legal holiday for Alaska

If the governor signs recently passed bill, Juneteenth would be observed as a state holiday in 2025.

An empty classroom at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on July 20, 2022. (Lisa Phu/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska faces consequences as federal education funding equity dispute continues

State officials offered feds a $300,000 compromise instead of $17 million adjustment.

A view of Angoon from a floatplane on Friday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Thayer Creek Hydro project fulfills ‘dream of the elders’

Angoon hydropower groundbreaking comes after four decades of effort, seeks to stabilize future costs

A Juneau Police Department officer talks on a radio in a patrol car. Officials said JPD’s communications system, which had an end-of-life date in 2014, needs to be replaced to provide improvements such as full radio coverage within the city and borough limits. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Voters may be asked to OK $22.75M in bonds to upgrade emergency communications, wastewater treatment

Juneau Assembly will consider two proposed measures, take public comments, at July 1 meeting.

Construction on Egan Drive on Tuesday evening leaves one lane open in each direction. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Upgrades at Fred Meyer intersection overnight Tuesday and Wednesday to affect traffic

One lane on Egan in each direction open 7-9 p.m.; northbound traffic diverted 9 p.m.-5 a.m.

Observers from the U.S. Department of Justice examine the accessibility of a polling place in Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley during the Aug. 16, 2022, primary election. The Justice Department concluded that the state violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to properly accommodate voters with disabilities. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Disabled Alaskans encountered barriers in recent elections, Justice Department investigation finds

Alaska failed to accommodate people with disabilities who were trying to cast… Continue reading

Independent Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during a campaign rally at Legends Event Center on Dec. 20, 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)
Want to run for President in Alaska? You’ll need a few thousand friends.

On Friday, supporters of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. turned in more than… Continue reading

Customers gather in the seating area of an expanded food court area on Franklin Street on Friday. Reconstruction work that began last fall was recently completed for the facility scheduled to be open between May and September. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Franklin Street facelift: Sites of former Elks Lodge, Glory Hall debut new eateries, housing

Expanded food court opens at former lodge site; donut shop and low-cost apartments replace shelter.

Juneau’s PJ Foy, shown winning the 2023 100 yard butterfly in 48.27 for Thunder Mountain High School during the ASAA state championships at the Dimond Park Aquatics Center on Nov. 4, 2023, qualified for the 2024 June Olympic Team Trials by swimming a 100 long course meters butterfly in a personal best 53.44 on March 16, 2024, at the Speedo Sectionals in Federal Way, Washington. (Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire file photo)
Alaskans secure spots at 2024 Olympics; Juneau swimmer PJ Foy will try for his spot on Friday

TMHS graduate seeking to qualify in 100-meter butterfly at U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Most Read