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Our Town Thornton Wilder's great masterpiece about life in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, at the beginning of the 20th century glorifies the mundane: the scent of heliotropes in the moonlight, strawberry phosphates at the drug store, shelling green beans with a neighbor, the grief at a funeral. The town is life, and life, according to Wilder, is the mind of God. Daily life (Act I) leads into love and marriage (Act II), which skips right to the graveyard (Act III). The Stage Manager lays it all out, first, as tour guide to the town's undistinguished history; soon, he takes a part in the play as an annoyed lady on the street or the understanding drugstore owner; then he's back as omniscient narrator, showing us the layout of the high mountain cemetery before he guides Emily back into the past, where Wilder's darker themes hit home. The play is swept of clutter; Wilder banishes sets and most props, leaving the whole play to our imagination. Houston Family Arts Center gets a lot of Wilder right. Patrick Barton's Stage Manager is folksy yet brutally clear-eyed; Sarah McQueen's questioning Emily has an innocent laugh; Matt Hudson's Professor Willard proclaims his dry geology statistics with pomp; J. Blanchard's town drunk Simon Stimson doesn't play for comedy but keeps his character sour and uncompromising; Whitney Zangarine's Mrs. Gibbs is no-nonsense but conveys the disappointment of dreams unfulfilled; and Rita Hughes's Mrs. Webb shows dignity in a marriage that has settled into rote. Most of the characters, though, aren't completely lived in, the actors still finding their way into their roles. Some of the minor ones seem to have been cast yesterday and are still catching up. Director Liza Garza keeps a steady pace throughout, and the minimal production is enhanced by an effective use of sound effects — the nostalgic glass clink of milk bottles zooms us to a time long past. But the idea to costume this period play in contemporary garb doesn't sit well. The intent, published in the playbill, was to keep these characters relevant to today's audience. Considering Wilder fills his play with milkmen, the first automobiles and such arcane tasks as chopping wood for the kitchen stove, how relevant is a tank top? Through September 9. Houston Family Arts Center, 10760 Grant Rd., 281-685-6374. — DLG

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