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Editorial Review

‘Our Town’ at Patapsco Female Institute: Theater that moves you

By Jessica Goldstein
Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011

The Patapsco Female Institute sits atop the highest hill in Ellicott City. The stone and granite building has had many identities - as a girls' school and boarding house from 1837 to 1891, then as a hotel, a convalescence home during both world wars, and a private residence and a theater in between (it was never, as its name might suggest, a prison).

It makes sense then that Patapsco is serving as the stage for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's production of "Our Town," a play about how the things we remember are all around us, a rumination on the passage of time.

" 'Our Town' is really a play about memories: Are they real? Are they ghosts? What are they?" said Ian Gallanar, Chesapeake's founding artistic director and director of the play, which opens Friday. "We're performing in and around a building that's . . . the memory of a building."

Yes, in and around. "Our Town" is Chesapeake's fourth movable production, one in which each scene occurs in a different place. The audience will walk from room to room, around the grounds of Patapsco, and stand throughout the performance, exposed to the elements (Patapsco is a preserved, stabilized ruin; it has no roof, windows or doors). The building is large enough to accommodate 150 people, the maximum audience size for the two-hour, 15-minute show.

Gallanar knows what people expect to do at the theater: "Sit down in a chair, the lights will go out, you better shut up and enjoy the play." But that experience interests him less than this traveling technique, one that puts the motion in emotion.

"It's gimmicky to say it's 5-D theater," he said. "But you can smell the actors, you hear the crickets, you hear the sound of gravel under people's feet. It really is a sensory experience. You create an atmosphere that surrounds people."

"Our Town" runs Friday to Oct. 30 at Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 3655 Church Rd., Ellicott City. Call 410-313-8661 or go to www.chesapeakeshake speare.com.