Grover’s Corners is every small town in early 20th-century America. It has a doctor and a blacksmith and a small-town newspaper and a milk man, complete with a stubborn old horse pulling his cart, and the prettiest girl in town and the town star athlete, who, of course, fall in love. And it has the requisite joys and triumphs and tragedies we all experience in our lives, whether we’re from a small town or not. All these comfortingly and heartbreakingly familiar places and moments are brought to us brilliantly by the immortal Thornton Wilder, who takes the ordinary and makes it poignant and somehow magical, and the talented, hard-working young people of The Guild Builders Teens. This amazing organization is a program of the Actors Guild of Parkersburg intended to fulfill the dual purpose of providing training in the theater arts to young people of the MOV and assuring the future of the Actors Guild. Based on the quality of this production, the future of theater in Parkersburg is in good hands.
One of the things that’s charming and fun about this play is it acknowledges that it is one, being narrated by a character known as the stage manager, who is onstage almost constantly and whose performance serves as the backbone of the show, so the quality of the presentation is, in many ways, made or broken by the actor who takes on the role. Well, the choice of Willow Payton is simply perfection. The energy and slightly sardonic humor brought by Payton strikes the perfect balance. And it’s not nothing that she has memorized and delivers confidently such a huge number of lines.
Also stellar are Braden Deguzman as George, a baseball star with ambitions to be a farmer, and Olivia Welch as Emily, the town beauty who also happens to be the town brain and the girl who makes George’s heart go pitter patter. Which works out nicely, because she feels the same about him. Deguzman and Welch are terrific individually and have a neat chemistry together.
Watching and helping your children grow up is one of the happiest and also saddest parts of being a parent. To know your child is growing into a young person of quality and integrity instills pride in mothers and fathers everywhere. But that pride is balanced by the difficult realization that this means your beloved child will be moving on. Portraying that dichotomy wonderfully are Samuel Watts and Althea Koskey as Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs and Kaleb Windland and Katie Riggs as Mr. and Mrs. Webb.
The cast is almost as big as the population of Grover’s Corners, so it is impossible to mention everyone, but they are all just terrific in this show. And when I say terrific, I don’t mean terrific for a bunch of local teenagers. I mean just plain old terrific. This show hits all the appropriate emotional notes and hits them with subtlety you wouldn’t expect from a group of the cast members’ tender years. They should be proud of the work they have done. The adults working with them definitely are. And you should see this show. You should see it just because it’s a good thing to support this noble program. But you should also see it just because you are in for a truly entertaining time. The curtain goes up Friday, June 18 at 8pm, with subsequent evening performances on June 19, 25, and 26. Two matinees will take place at 2:30pm on June 20 and 27. Tickets are available at their website. Buy them soon. You’ll be glad you did.