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Director says Thornton Wilder classic remains relevant

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FARMINGTON — As one of the more frequently staged plays in American history, the Thornton Wilder classic "Our Town" is familiar material to just about anyone who has ever witnessed a live theater production.

But don't tell Linann Easley, director of the Fine Arts Center at San Juan College, that "Our Town" isn't worth another look. She's directing the San Juan College Theatre production of the play that opens this weekend, and she figures it fits right in with the department's direction of late.

"Our theater season has really been about telling our stories and certain stories we tell ourselves at certain seasons of our lives," she said. "And this falls into that nicely."

Easley described the Wilder play as an American standard, and she lauded its beautiful, timeless language and poignant moments. She also noted that "Our Town" has never been performed during her 21 years at the college, another factor that makes it a very good fit for this season's lineup of productions.

"It works really well for a college crowd," she said, adding that her first exposure to the play came when she was in college.

Additionally, the broad age range of characters in the cast provided Easley as the director with a good chance to mix college actors with older, more experienced community actors and allow them to work side by side, she said.

Set in a fictional small town in early 20th century America, "Our Town" offers a look into the lives and relationships of a handful of characters over several years. Traditionally, the play is performed with a minimum of sets, but its period dress allows Easley to indulge in one of her favorite inclinations, as costume design is one of her strengths.

"It's kind of funny — I have to keep pulling myself back," she said, laughing and referring to her tendency to make the costumes too fanciful. "Everything needs to be less (complicated) and pared down … and I keep wanting to do elaborate everything."

Despite having to tamp down her instincts, Easley has enjoyed the experience.

"It's my thing," she said. "And this is one of my favorite periods to costume."

The two lead characters are portrayed by Lillie Geiersbach and Kevin Tschetter. Tschetter will graduate this spring from the college's theater program and has been a regular face in Easley-led productions, while Geiersbach is a senior at San Juan College High School. Easley became acquainted with her last summer when Geiersbach was involved in Sandstone Productions.

"It's great to get her on stage with us," Easley said.

The play also features several child actors, many of whom were involved in the college's production of "Oliver!" last spring.

"I think they were looking for another 'Oliver!'-like experience, and this is the exact opposite," Easley said, laughing.

While there have been different interpretations of "Our Town" over the years, Easley said this production will remain true to Wilder's vision.

"I think it's pretty straightforward," she said. "I try to stay true to Thornton Wilder and his (classic) version. I actually did quite a bit of research on other productions that have been done, but we've tried to stay true to the show and its language."

Easley said she simply didn't see any need to modernize or jazz up a work that has withstood the test of time.

"I think we all can see ourselves in these characters," she said.

And on a deeper level, "Our Town" still offers a valuable lesson about taking advantage of the time that is given to us, she said.

"On a day-to-day level of living our life, we squander it," she said, capsulizing that message. "We squander our interactions with each other and with kindness. This play presents a nice touchstone to that. We need to slow down and love each other more."

"Our Town" will be performed at 7 p.m. March 6-7 and 13-14, and at 2 p.m. March 15 in the Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Hall on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and $8 for children 12 and younger. They can be purchased at the box office or online at sanjuancollege.edu/silhouette. Call 505-566-3430.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/216TU0e

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