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Carter Dulka (from left), Christine Dornbush and Caitlin Weber rehearse “Our Town.” The production, by Locally Grown Theatre, runs May 15-18 at Zion Lutheran Church. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

Going to town: Locally Grown Theatre stages Thornton Wilder classic

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Joy and despair are next door neighbors in “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play about the residents of a small New Hampshire village.

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South Washington County’s Locally Grown Theatre brings the American classic to life this weekend at Zion Lutheran Church. Seating will be in the round. Cast members, under the direction of Emily Olson, hail from around the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin as well as Cottage Grove.

Wilder won a Pulitzer for his three-act chronicle of youth, marriage and death in the town of Grover’s Corners. It’s become one of the most frequently performed plays of all time, in part because “Our Town” could represent anybody’s town. Wilder’s characters are accessible and relatable, the staging is simple, and the large ensemble cast encompasses three generations, which helps to put the “community” in community theater.

“Our Town” is set in 1901. The first automobile won’t make an appearance in Grover’s Corners for five more years. The town doctor makes house calls. And presumably, folks don’t bother to lock their doors.

This is no nostalgia trip, however. There’s little comfort to be gleaned from the very ordinary lives of these folks, who will leave little behind when they die. The play’s message is delivered by a girl’s ghost in Act III: You’re born, you die. Make the most of the life you’re given.

Richard Daly, 67, of St. Paul, plays the stage manager, who serves as narrator and tour guide through the lives of the residents of Grover’s Corners. He eavesdrops on conversations, introduces various characters and matter-of-factly foretells death.

“It’s not sentimental like a lot of people seem to think,” said Daly, who played the stage manager before. As an example, he cites the deceptively amiable marriage between Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs. She longs to take a trip abroad, but her husband refuses to venture beyond Grover’s Corners.

“He’s never taken her feelings into consideration,” Daly said.

The cast includes 10-year-old Zach Larsen of Cottage Grove. The Armstrong Elementary fourth-grader is already something of a theater veteran, having appeared in regional productions of “The Three Musketeers” and “Robin Hood.”

“I like acting and I like being a different character I’ve never played,” Zach said.

Hastings resident Tom Sorenson plays George Gibbs, the baseball-crazy young man who woos and weds Emily Webb, the daughter the town’s newspaper editor.

“I’ve never played full-on grief before,” said Sorenson, referring to a scene in Act III. “It’s been — I’m not going to say ‘stressful,’ but I’ll say it was a challenge.”

If you go Cottage Grove-based Locally Grown Theatre will present Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” with seating in the round at Zion Lutheran Church, 8500 Hillside Trail, in Cottage Grove. Performances are scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 15-17, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 18. Tickets are $10 and $12 and can be purchased online at www.locallygrowntheatre.org.

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