QC Writer Updates ‘Our Town’ With New ‘Their Town’

Not only did prolific East Moline playwright Alexander Richardson update the iconic “Our Town.”

But he’s also updated his “Their Town” – from its premiere at Playcrafters in early 2020 – to a new version that opens Friday, September 23 at Mockingbird on Main, 320 Main St., Davenport.

“Their Town” originally premiered at Playcrafters in Moline in early 2020 and has gone through revisions.

“Our Town” is a 1938 three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play tells the story of the fictional small American town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the daily lives of its citizens.

Throughout, Wilder uses theatrical devices, setting the play in the actual theater where it is performed, and a main character is the theater manager, who speaks directly to the audience.

Richardson’s “Their Town” updates things considerably (including setting the action in the present), and it originally did two full weekends at Playcrafters, with the final performance the first weekend of March 2020. , just before the COVID shutdowns. “Their Town” features life, marriage, and death in a small Midwestern town. A day and a night pass as people try to navigate the new century.

“I love and hate ‘Our Town,'” Richardson, 28, said this week. “I love the central message, which is ‘Enjoy your life, take stock of where you are’ — which is such a good and important message.”

He doesn’t like that the show is old and long, and that there are so many actors to cast.

“The message is important, so I wanted to tell the story with not 30 actors,” joked Richardson. “What I incorporated was the overall feeling of the original – which is a quaint little town where people have normal day-to-day issues.”

“Their Town” features Brittany Anderson (Emily), Drew DeKeyrel (George), Emmalee Hillburn (Michelle), Adam Cerny (He), Taylor Lynn Gravet (She), Louie Fischer (Bernard), and Alisha Hanes (Cierra).

More characters than Emily die

Several characters die in “Their Town”, not just Emily as in “Our Town”. Richardson revised the original role of the stage manager, splitting it into male and female (“He” and “She”), and they play other townspeople roles. They still act as narrators and put on costumes in front of the audience – retaining Wilder’s original “game in a room” feel.

The cast consists of (front row LR) Louie Fischer, Emmalee Hillburn, Brittany Anderson and Drew DeKeyrel, and (back row LR) Adam Cerny, Taylor Lynn Gravert and Alisha Hanes.

“Their city” is more about the journey than the destination, he said.

“They’re going through tumultuous changes in their lives,” Richardson said, noting that George is breaking up with his girlfriend and becoming a couple with Emily.

“This is about the pandemic, not the pandemic,” Tapscott said. “What people realized in those days, when you had a lot of time to think about things.”

Richardson originally set the show in 2019, then COVID hit, and he saw it foreshadowed the pandemic there. “It’s a lot about those feelings, we should take stock of where we are and appreciate what we have because it could always be worse,” he said.

Light projections inside The Mockingbird, 320 Main St., Davenport.

He modified the first act, to flesh it out, and kept the original acts two and three, adding visual projections. It’s more where the characters sit emotionally, showing signature images, video, map, lines, and the characters’ inner monologues.

“It’s more about the projection this time around,” Richardson said, noting that they’re used throughout the Mockingbird space.

“There’s so much potential out there, and I think theaters aren’t using it in theatrical creation,” he said.

In “Our Town”, Emily focuses on her role as a wife and mother (which the playwright says is a worthwhile way of life), but she does not marry in “Their Town” and is more modern and independent.

Adam Cerny and Brittany Anderson in a scene from “Their Town”.

“I think more women today aren’t going there — they want to be their own independent person,” Richardson said.

Instead of a specific town (Grover’s Corners in “Our Town”), “Their Town” is set in an unnamed Midwestern town.

Compared to the Playcrafters version, Richardson also changed the radio DJ from male to female, here played by Emmalee Hillburn.

Privacy of space

Elizabeth Melville directed the Playcrafters version, and Richardson directs this one, her first time at Mockingbird.

“I love the privacy of this space,” he said of the 40-seat, cabaret-style theater. “The actors have absolutely nowhere to hide when they’re on stage. They are sometimes a meter away from the spectators. I like the intimate feeling that is created. You can’t help but get sucked into these scenes.

“Every show I’ve worked on is what I’ve loved the most — how close things are here,” Richardson said. He premiered his latest piece, “Your Better Self,” at Mockingbird in June and co-starred in co-owner Tristan Tapscott’s two-man adaptation of “Around the World in 80 Days” in March 2022.

Alex Richardson and Sydney Dexter in The Mockingbird on the main production of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’.

“Their Town” is produced and engineered by Mockingbird co-founders Savannah Bay Strandin and her fiancé, Tapscott.

Richardson asked Tapscott to physically expand the stage. This is to give the actors more leeway, even though “Their Town” usually has no more than three people on stage at any one time.

In “Our Town”, Emily returns to the afterlife, and Richardson brings this back in her version.

“What I love most about the original ‘Our Town’ is that third act, where it’s her in the afterlife, revisiting her life,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s, I think, one of the best theaters I’ve ever seen, no matter the production – no matter how bad the first two acts are.

“Once you get to the end, that final third act is always a knockout,” Richardson said. “I wanted to keep that feeling as much as possible, while making it feel a bit new and fresh. Thornton Wilder did it perfectly; I wanted to do my version.

Who are Emily and George?

The young couple, Emily and George, are played by young actors – Brittany Anderson, a 25-year-old Rock Island High and Illinois State graduate, and Drew DeKeyrel, a 20-year-old Orion High graduate .

“Their City” is Anderson’s first community theater performance in Quebec. She saw “Around the World” and “Your Better Self” (which Anderson says blew her away).

Adam Cerny and Brittany Anderson, with Drew DeKeyrel on back, during a rehearsal for Mockingbird.

“It’s amazing,” Anderson said of “Their Town.” “I am blown away by everyone’s talent and honored to be here. It’s really exciting.

DeKeyrel starred in her high school’s “Little Shop of Horrors” (Seymour), and in 2019 was in Playcrafters’ “She Kills Monsters,” produced by Richardson. He then starred in Playcrafters’ “Rabbit Hole” and “Dog Sees God” and Richardson asked him to play George for “Their Town”.

“I didn’t have a lot of people showing up for auditions; it’s hard to get people to audition these days,” Richardson said.

“I was thrilled, because I had planned to audition,” DeKeyrel said, noting that he saw the Playcrafters “Their Town.”

“I’ve done three Playcrafters productions and was comfortable there, and I should probably move on to other theatrical productions because I love doing theatre,” he said. .

He called Mockingbird “such a niche, a small, intimate space. I was surprised at how small the scene was and thought, “That would be interesting,” DeKeyrel said, noting that he had seen the original “Their Town,” with a scene at least three times larger than Mockingbird.

No overlap in casting

None of the Playcrafters actors are in the new version, Richardson said, with the same number of characters.

“What I love most about working on shows multiple times – like Shakespeare productions – is that you can do ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in 30 different ways with 30 different casts, and each of between them will be fantastic,” he said. “I love what individuals bring to the roles they occupy.

“No one else in the world can play the role like he does,” Richardson said. “I like to bring in as many new voices as possible.”

He was thrilled after the first reading of “Their Town,” to see how the current cast fit their roles perfectly.

The intimate Mockingbird, staged for a previous production. The stage has since been expanded for “Their Town”.

“It’s a new space, so I’m still a little nervous, but it’s a comfortable space,” DeKeyrel said.

The screenings help amplify and complement what the actors do, Anderson said.

“It’s really cool, because I feel like there are times when I feel like people are in my head, and that’s really cool,” she said. “How I feel up there is very clear, and it’s a cool, more introspective and intimate way that you wouldn’t just get me up there. You get the whole experience of what the character feels.

Richardson also engages audiences with screenings, having them read and interpret what is shown, instead of listening to the audio of an interior monologue.

“It forces them to be a bit more engaged,” he said of the audience. With Michelle the DJ, every time she goes on stage, there is a projection of a clock, since she is in the middle of a midlife crisis.

“For her, the only thing she can focus on is her time,” Richardson said.

Showing the moral is the same

He hopes the ultimate moral ‘Their City’ is the same as ‘Our City’ – for people to reflect and enjoy their lives.

“I think it’s better than the original,” DeKeyrel said, noting that he was in “Our Town” at Orion.

The new version plays a more old-fashioned farm boy, George, against the more modern and abrasive Emily, Richardson said. In the original, Emily is so polite and proper – “why not Emily a little more rude and make rude jokes?” he said

“He’s brilliant,” Tapscott said of Richardson. “The appeal was that he had done so many rewrites, it wasn’t the same carbon copy as what Playcrafters had done. He’s awesome, so when he sends me a script, I don’t even need to read it. It’s like, your name is on it, I’ll do it. I’m like the Manny Azenberg to his Tom Stoppard.

“Their Town” premieres at Mockingbird on September 23, 24, 29, 30 and October 1 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. The Mockingbird has a “Pay What You Can” model and patrons can pay cash or Venmo at the door. No reservation is required at this time.

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