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COCA Spotlight: At Home With ‘Our Town’

By: Amanda Sieradzki, COCA | March 04, 2019

Director Jeff Mandel first saw the dramatic play “Our Town” during his high school and college days. When the script came across his desk again this winter, his first thought was that it would be an easy endeavor to stage given that it is routinely performed in high school repertoires across the country. 
 
After several read-throughs, Mandel began peeling back the layers of this complex work written by Thornton Wilder. He subsequently realized why the play has had such staying power in America’s cultural lexicon since its debut in 1938. 
 
“The play is very rich with themes about life and death, about America, about small town living,” says Mandel. “It doesn’t fit into nice, neat category like comedy or drama, and that complexity appeals to me because there are wonderful characters in there.”
 
Monticello Opera House’s run of “Our Town” will conclude on March 3, and Mandel couldn’t be prouder of his strong and talented cast. He’s also honored to have a setting for the work that mirrors the time period of the play—the plot of “Our Town” begins in 1901 and the opera house was built in 1890. 

“The local historical society did an event where they assembled old pictures of Monticello in the opera house,” says Mandel. “It reinforces the feeling that even though the play is about a fictional town in New Hampshire, the town is the same size as Monticello is today. There are a lot of connections there.”
 
Living in a town on the outskirts of New York City, Mandel was exposed to theater at a young age. He recalls seeing “Oklahoma!” on Broadway and being delighted by its western scenes. “Fiddler on the Roof” was another favorite, and Mandel would go on to play Lazar Wolf, the village butcher in a Quincy Music Theatre production.

Though he enjoys musicals, Mandel is more partial to dramas like Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan.” 
 
As an actor for the Florida State University’s film school, he is often cast as the heavy —or main antagonist — taking on the roles of gangsters, mob bosses and crooked businessmen. However, Mandel has since shifted his focus from actor to director in recent years. He directed his first show, “Look Homeward Angel” by Thomas Wolf in his early 20s, taking inspiration for his approach to directing from his high school English and drama teacher. 

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