The only production I've ever seen live of Our Town was a community production of it in Moorhead, Minnesota (long, yet relatively boring, story), and I don't remember much about it other than general gloom, coupled with general entertainment value at somehow watching a community production of Our Town in Moorhead, Minnesota. In any case, the rendition which I recently watched in the documentary OT: Our Town will probably stick in my mind much longer. Compton, California, and Our Town--a play by an old white dude full of old white people talking about death, and stuff--seemingly do not go together, yet they are smooshed together here, in the first play Dominguez High School has put on in over 20 years. They have no stage, no money. Stories like these can turn trite/overplayed rather fast. Let's guess. They make an "urban" Our Town, make old white stuff "hip" and multicultural. Okay, the truth is I still usually enjoy that stuff, but what makes this movie (or rather, this experience, and the teachers) good is I believe it moves past that. They don't enter any "slang" into the play; they stick to the original script because as Armia says, it wouldn't feel "honest" otherwise. The two teachers who have taken on this project do struggle with how to make the play authentic and relevant to the students and to the audience, however, and while they first tread into some tricky waters--suggesting the students wear "ethnic clothes"--to which Chris rightly asks, "What the hell is ethnic clothing?"--I believe they get it right.
The best part of the film are obviously the kids--in particular, I loved the closeups of the extremely intelligent, well spoken, and exuberant Ebony. The Ebonys of the world give me hope for everything. (In a "where are they now" press release from Film Movement, the publication date of which I can't find, she was currently attending Berkeley and learning her fourth language. Booyah.) I also loved the quiet, deep thoughtfulness and seriousness of Chris; the charming and adorable Armia; and oh man do I love Jackie. The documentary takes place in 2002 and the footage of Jackie explaining her love for N*Sync, gesturing to the pictures covering the walls of her bedroom, was one of my favorite moments ever. ("Britney Spears, back up, okay. Back up, Britney Spears.") I also found the cuts to the 1977 Hal Holbrook version of Our Town mixed in throughout quite effective.
There were only a few things I had issues with during the movie; I did feel slightly uncomfortable during all of the comparisons to the basketball team. While I completely understand pointing out the gaping disparities between financial and moral support given to each program--meaning, the basketball team is the only thing in the school that gets any--I felt that it was unfair to target the basketball players themselves, which I felt was happening during the brief interview with them. While it's true that sports garner much more attention and money in high schools nationwide than is distributed to the arts, something I am not advocating for, sports remain an important and meaningful way for individuals--particularly those, in say, Compton--to make a better lives for themselves, to inspire self-confidence and discipline, to raise morale of a community, and yes, to bring in money. Dominguez High would probably be in even direr straights than they if they didn't have a successful basketball team. Is it fair that the other kids in the school feel neglected and pushed aside? Of course. I just feel that the sports v. the arts dichotomy is already so deeply entrenched in students' minds, that as adults we should really be trying to break it down. (But I understand I'm facing an uphill battle on this one.) I also would have loved just a little more background on how the students who were a part of it came to be there--did they have auditions? Were they recruited by the teachers? Were they just the ones who showed up?
In any case, as one can imagine, and by "one" I mean "anyone who knows me at all or has read anything else I've written," when it was actually show time for the kids--Were people going to even show up? Were they going to forget all their lines? Were they going to puke from nervousness?--well, I cried. For the last twenty minutes.