‘Our Town’ becomes a Bouchard family affair

Courtesy Theater in the Woods

By JIM LOWE
The Lowe Down

Ever since it premiered in 1938, “Our Town” has been a favorite of professional and community theater companies, as well as audiences. Thornton Wilder’s tale of small-town life told through the loves and travails of its ordinary citizenry over a 12-year period relates directly to our own. Or does it?

“My struggle with the play is that there is a distinct vocabulary now to which it’s done,” explained Megan Bouchard, who is directing a community workshop production by Middletown Springs’ Theater in the Woods, Sunday at the Tinmouth Fire Station, and Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22 at the Castleton Federated Church.

“There’s this sort of distanced old-timey way of doing that,” she said. “My eyes would always glaze over and I would feel separate from the experience.

“Why don’t we just do it with total realism and be in this ambiguity of period and come from our own experiences?” Bouchard asked.

If her name sounds familiar, that might be because she is the daughter of Bruce Bouchard, the charismatic executive director of Rutland’s Paramount Theatre, a Broadway veteran and former director of Capitol Repertory Theatre in Albany, New York. Her mother is actress Kate Kelly Bouchard, also a Broadway veteran and now senior artist-in-residence at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.

And they’re both in Megan Bouchard’s “Our Town.”

“It’s been a really incredible process,” Megan Bouchard said. “Directing your parents is intimidating, requires a lot of humility and grace and listening, and noticing when a power struggle comes up — which has been never, except in my own head.”

“Our Town” kicks off Theater in the Woods Vermont Co.’s third season of activity. The core of theater professionals also offers summer theater camps for children and teenagers. Bouchard joined the company when she relocated, with her husband and 3-year-old son, from Brooklyn to a place up the road from her parents in Middletown Springs.

“That relationship was instantaneous,” Bouchard said of her work with Theater in the Woods. “It was that relationship that solidified that I could have an artistic life in Vermont.” (She continues to commute to Brooklyn, where she is educational director of the Falconworks Theater Company.)

“There’s something about the attitude and pathos of this community that screamed ‘Our Town’ to me,” Bouchard said. “It’s like the community was the muse to begin to workshop.”

And workshop describes exactly what the all-Rutland County cast began doing.

“So we began from there, rehearsing in my living room and talking with each other,” said Bouchard. “When things weren’t feeling connected, we would start to look at our own lives and look at our own community, and then find the truth from there.

“It’s ironic, because Thornton Wilder, according to my research, was doing this experimental theater — bringing in experimental and realism at the same time,” Bouchard said. “It’s odd how it’s become this very sentimental old-timey way of doing it that’s the exact opposite of his intention.

“We wanted to really be with the audience, creating a community with the audience as we’re speaking this text. It’s so of-right-now in its essence; universal and so specific at the same time,” Bouchard said.

“Our Town” also happens to be Bruce Bouchard’s favorite American play.

“I recently discovered a first edition of the published text and on the title page it said, ‘Dedicated to Alexander Woollcott, Castleton Township, Rutland County,’” he said. “Come on out to hear some of the most beautiful words ever written about a small rural town — wholly recognizable by all Vermonters.”

This “Our town” is actually a three-family affair: Rainbow, Wheaton and Marshall Squire, and Melissa and Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, as well as the Bouchards.

“And it’s the first time in 38 years that Mr. and Mrs. Bouchard will have shared a stage,” Bruce Bouchard added.

Theater in the Woods

Theater in the Woods presents “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder, in a workshop presentation:

– Sunday, April 15: Tinmouth — Tinmouth Firehouse, 3 p.m.

– Saturday, April 21: Castleton — Federated Church, 7 p.m.

– Sunday April 22: Castleton — Federated Church, 3p.m.

Tickets are $20, $10 for children (cash or check) at the door; for information about Theater in the Woods, go online to www.theaterinthewoodsvt.org.