June 24 2009 12:00 AM

LCC opens summer season of American classics

It wasn’t that they didn’t want to get married.

George and Emily loved each other; they had since their late-night homework sessions when they were kids. But these circumstances felt like a straightjacket, what with George giving up college and baseball and Emily sacrificing her dreams, too.

But the aisle that seemed so long was really just a slice of a lifetime, and when the two finally decided to walk down it together, the spot near the Lansing Community College parking ramp seemed like the perfect place.

It wasn’t exactly St. Paul’s Cathedral, but for the cast and crew of LCC’s Theatre’s production of “Our Town,” the outdoor location is the perfect practice spot for working out this story of love, death and earthly relationships. “If it’s good enough for the Greeks, it’s good enough for us,” said director Mary Matzke. “When you’re inside, you automatically have the audience’s attention. Outdoors there’s no covering the outside noise. It’s the Olympics of theater, and we will work so hard to keep that audience’s attention.”

Under the fading day, the cast of students and faculty rehearsed at LCC’s outdoor amphitheatre on a recent Thursday, preparing for the opening show of its Summer Stage Under the Stars series — a free festival of music, theater and dance. “Our Town,” which opens tonight, is the first of three plays LCC will offer, along with “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” and “Beanie and the Bamboozling Book Machine.” In addition to theater, the series includes a performance by LCC’s Faculty Jazz Quartet and the The C/d Project modern dance concert.

“Our Town,” written by Thornton Wilder, is the classic stop-and-smell-theroses tale of two American families in the community of Grover’s Corners. Set in the 1930s, the story follows young lovers George Gibbs and Emily Webb on their hesitant journey from the safeties of childhood to the uncertainties of adulthood, love, marriage and death. Through the eyes of the stage manager, who plays an unusually interactive role with the audience and characters, the play depicts the story of a normal life with a larger-thanlife message. “The message is designed to enlighten the morals and spiritual impulses about the passage of time," Matzke said. “Emily says in the play, ‘We don’t have time to look at one another.’ But the message is we don’t have time not to look.”’

The production marks Matzke’s third time directing “Our Town, but it’s her first outdoors. "I never had any intentions of directing this play — it always finds me,” she said. “But each time, I always learn something new.”

Wilder’s message on the importance of relationships is also apparent through the play’s stripped-down scenery, which relies only on a few chairs, tables and ladders, while the rest is formed through the audience’s imagination.

"We pantomime a lot and do not have a lot of props, because the play focuses not on environmental things but on people to convey life, the spirit, love and values, such as the appreciation of the moment," said Melissa Kaplan, project coordinator for LCC Theatre.

Kaplan said each of this year’s theater selections unintentionally falls under the umbrella of American classics.

"Hank Williams: Lost Highway” tells the story of the country legend, his rocket rise to fame and tragic death. "I want the audience to have seen this shooting star that was Hank Williams," said director John Lepard. "He lived his life so quickly, like a match. I just want to tell the story of his life, what a great human being he was and what a tragedy it was to lose him."

Children’s play “Beanie and the Bamboozling Book Machine,” tells the story of a creative but lazy boy who invents a machine that reads book for him. When the experiment goes haywire, book characters come to life to teach the boy a lesson. "This play teaches children not to take shortcuts for your work and to take the time to sit down and read a book, because there are worlds out there with stories and adventures to be told," said director Paige Dunckel.

‘Our Town’

24-28 8 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday Lansing Community College Theatre LCC
Outdoor Amphitheatre FREE (517) 483-1488 www.lcc.edu/hpa/events