Thornton Wilder’s well-worn 1938 drama “Our Town” seems like an unusual choice for the much-heralded debut of Le Petit Théâ tre’s new artistic director, Maxwell Williams, because others in his position might be tempted to make a splash with something a little flashier.
But Williams, who arrived in New Orleans earlier this year from Hartford Stage in Connecticut, said his pick for Le Petit’s 2015-16 season opener was deliberate.
Williams hopes that “Our Town,” running Oct. 2-18 , will give audiences a chance to rediscover both the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and the French Quarter’s historic theater, each of which he says is an American classic that deserves a second look.
“I think ‘Our Town’ is a play that a lot of people have misconceptions about because everyone gets introduced to it in high school. But when you approach it as an adult and crack it open, you see how beautiful, and bleak, and potentially even dangerous some of it is,” said Williams, who is directing the production.
“That resonated with me about my notion of Le Petit. I think a lot of people are deeply connected to that theater, but I also think a lot of people have a very set notion of what it is. We’re here not to do away with the past, certainly to honor the past, but to also reconceive what can be and hopefully make something bigger.”
Williams believes “Our Town” could be the first step in helping Le Petit find its place in the crowded landscape of the city’s theater companies, all of whom are striving to offer unique programming for local audiences.
What’s at stake, he said, is not only the success of the theater but the successful preservation of theater history in New Orleans.
“What we don’t really have in New Orleans is a company that is dedicated to revitalizing and really producing at a very high level the core classics of our theater tradition, and I think that’s what we want to do,” said Williams.
“Let’s go back these stories that we’ve shared for a long time, and let’s figure out how they’re relevant today, and let’s remind ourselves that they’re still very exciting.”
“Our Town” is a drama set in 1901 that follows two teenagers in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, Emily Webb and George Gibbs (played by Sara Minerd and Greg Chandler Maness), through the ups and downs of courtship, marriage and family life.
The production’s cast is anchored by Carol Sutton, who has racked up numerous TV and film credits and received the 2012 Big Easy Lifetime Achievement Award for her decadeslong contributions to the local theater scene.
Sutton plays the Stage Manager (“a role traditionally played by an old white guy,” noted Williams), a central character who serves as the audience’s guide through Grover’s Corners.
The conceit of the stage manager presenting a play about Grover’s Corners to the audience gives Williams a chance to inject a little local color by reimagining the production through the lens of a New Orleans theater company putting on the show, so that “Our Town” bears a little more resemblance to our town.
After kicking things off with “Our Town,” Le Petit’s 2015-16 season will go on to include adaptations of “Sleeping Beauty” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”