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April 8, 2011

Simple Miracles – Jeff Lillico

Jeff Lillico is a Dora Award-winning actor who has been with Soulpepper since 2006. Despite his young age, Jeff has been involved in many productions with the company, including Salt-Water Moon, American Buffalo, A Month in the Country and King Lear. Jeff has also performed in five seasons with the Shaw Festival, and has worked with Tarragon Theatre, Acting Up Stage Company and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Jeff reprises his role as George in Our Town.

Jeff LillicoI’m half way through rehearsing Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. This will be my third time taking part in this production and I’ve been asked to talk about what it’s like to revisit a play in this way.

Act I ends with George and Rebecca Gibbs standing atop a ladder representing George’s bedroom window. The two stare at the moon, which on this night has transfixed the whole town in a way that one might guess isn’t particularly different from any other evening in Grover’s Corners when the moon is clear and full. Rebecca, 11, tells George, 16, of a letter a girl in town received from her minister when she was sick. “The address on the envelope was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm, Grover’s Corner’s; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America-“… At which point George interrupts and says, “What’s funny about that?” (Quite exasperatedly and carelessly in my hands, perhaps this comes from memories of growing up with my own younger brother.) Rebecca continues, “But listen, it’s not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God – that’s what it said on the envelope.” George responds in wonder, “What do you know!” to which Rebecca adds, “And the postman brought it just the same.” Again George says in wonder, “What do you know!” We’re left to ponder this notion at the end of the first of three acts.

This passage is very present in my thoughts and to me encapsulates my hopes and ambitions in approaching the work as we re-embark upon this journey. The minister’s letter conveys the enormity of all existence in such a profound and awe-inspiring way. I think it’s possible for every moment of this play to carry that level of dimension. The play depicts entirely ordinary moments in life but, taken on another level, is a ceaseless series of simple miracles. In the final act when Emily returns to relive her childhood in Grover’s Corner’s she will learn that the overwhelming beauty of these miracles is unbearably painful to witness. Thankfully, I find it not at all painful to revisit a production as powerful and beautiful as Our Town under the direction of Joe Ziegler, but an incredible gift. The great joy for me in returning to this piece is that rather than looking at any moment as though it were an address ending in “The United States of America,” I have the continued joy of investigating every moment as though it were an address ending in “The Solar System, The Universe, The Mind of God.” May we all be so blessed to have the opportunity to go deeper than the surface and strive for something as far reaching as the address on Jane Crofut’s letter. Excavating the possibilities in an incredible piece such as this is a never-ending task and one of which I can hardly imagine tiring. As I see it, that is the great joy of a life in theatre.