Jane Kaczmarek stars in the Pasadena Playhouse/Deaf West Theatre production of ‘Our Town’

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Groundbreaking retelling of the Thornton Wilder classic runs through Oct. 22

Tolucan Times columnist Margie Barron chats with actress Jane Kaczmarek in this exclusive interview about her role in the current stage production of Our Town.

What makes Our Town (from 1938) a timeless classic and how will the storytelling be enhanced by American Sign Language?

See actress Jane Kaczmarek in “Our Town” though Oct. 22 at Pasadena Playhouse.
Photo by Daniel Rader. Styled by Susie Knowles.

Our Town is timeless because its message is simple: appreciate the small, true wonders of everyday life. The “sacred ordinary,” I like to call it. Take pleasure from family, community and the wonders of nature. The ordinary things we so often take for granted. Emily bids farewell to “hot coffee, clocks ticking, fresh ironed dresses, mama’s sunflowers, sleeping, waking up” in her final farewell. She reminds us that “it all goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.” This message may be even more dire today than when Our Town was written. Today we are bombarded by social media, 24-hour news channels and the ubiquitous smart phone. The fine art of taking time to really see and listen to one another is in a serious state of decline! Telling the story of Our Town with Deaf West Theatre actors gives us, and the audience, the opportunity to not only listen, but to listen differently. And I can’t think of a more urgent message today than to turn off our devices, and listen to one another.

How will the universally-relatable emotions of the small town family story be raised to a new level by the creative efforts of Deaf West Theatre’s co-production with Pasadena Playhouse?

In the use of American Sign Language, the Deaf West Theatre actors must look at each other. And, we must look at them in order to hear them. Visual contact is the foundation of ASL. Attention must be paid and it is! We hope the audience sees the deeply invested communication that is happening between the hearing and the deaf actors on stage and remember how important it is to stop our busyness and take time for one another.

What is the great joy —and great challenge for you to take on the role of “Stage Manager,” who ushers the audience through the tale of love and loss?

Joy and challenge. Well you hit that one right on the head! Our Town has been my favorite play since I first saw it at the Milwaukee Rep in the early 1970s with Judith Light playing Emily. She was perfect. I played Emily in college at UW-Madison and have seen it performed many, many times. Most recently at a local high school whose flyer I saw in a Starbucks and went to see it not knowing anyone in the cast. That high school Emily was exceptional too and I’m really glad I went. Emily in the Third Act really makes or breaks the play for me. I saw a terrific production a few years back that opened my eyes to some subtleties in the play I hadn’t realized before. The cast was wonderful but the actress playing Emily just couldn’t pull off the Third Act. I was disappointed especially since my divorce had gone thru that same day (and 20 years of my youth down the drain) and I was in dire need of rejuvenation. The actress playing Emily went on to win an Academy Award a few years later, so what do I know!?

My joy in playing Our Town at the Pasadena Playhouse is heightened because I live a mile or so away from the theatre and continue to enjoy my children and friends during busy rehearsals time — everything is just minutes away. And I love Pasadena and the new artistic leadership at the Pasadena Playhouse has me eager to perform there as much as I can. Being able to walk to work is a dream come true around here.

The challenges are that this old grey mare (my brain) ain’t what she used to be and keeping lines in my head isn’t as easy anymore. I need to drill, drill, drill even when I think I’ve got it down. The Stage Manager has lots of lines to begin with and having to sync them up with the ASL translation as well is slow-moving and technical work. Troy Kotsur and I have spent hours, days, standing side-by-side in  front of large mirrors syncing his ASL with my spoken lines so that our timing, our interpretation, our breathing, come across as one. That being said, it has also been a gift for me to work so closely with Troy. We have laughed more than we should in rehearsals and have connected deeply although he’s never said a word to me and he’s never heard a word I’ve said to him. I’ve come to see that communicating honestly with anyone, hearing or otherwise is diligent hard work, but the payoff is more than I ever imagined.

Jane Kaczmarek can be seen in “Our Town,” co-produced by Pasadena Playhouse and Deaf West Theatre, at Pasadena Playhouse now through Sunday, October 22. Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena. For tickets and information visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org.

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