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Our Town Playwright Thornton Wilder was so far inside the closet that it should come as no surprise that the emotional wallop of his American classic play occurs when dead people converse from their graves. Like him, they're the ultimate outsiders, and they have his complete empathy. In Act III, young Emily dies in childbirth and joins the deceased townsfolk at the cemetery up on the hill — the dead sit on chairs and stare blankly straight at us. Impatient and wanting to explore the new insights that flood through her, Emily aches to return to the living. She is warned to forget, that it's not what she thinks it will be, but, as in life, she's insistent and curious. Granted a one-day visit back, Emily realizes her mistake almost instantly. The pain of seeing life slip away is too shattering — not only to Emily, but to us. Her searing cry, "They don't understand, do they?" can pierce through the toughest armor. The commonplace inhabits the universe with a kind majestic grandeur in this great play, which is so simple and ingeniously crafted, there's no other work like it. It's unique in its staging (bare walls, no sets, few props), with a timeless message about the wasted beauty of everyday existence, and it's too special to be imitated. Our Town is one of a kind, and the Alley Theatre plays it that way in a stirring rendering graciously directed by Gregory Boyd. This production will draw you into the minutiae of the mundane (the milkman delivering cream, neighbors snapping green beans, moonlight on a spring evening, wedding day jitters) and then break your heart with ineffable sadness. James Black, as the Stage Manager who leads us through the decades in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th century, is a rather edgy, chilly cicerone to warm up the universe, but Elizabeth Bunch, as Emily, and Jay Sullivan, as her soul mate and husband George, strike the emotive balance between specific and universal. They light the stars, as does the large, impressive cast. Who shines the brightest, though, is Wilder, even hiding inside that dark closet. Through November 1. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG

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