CPP Theatre and New Dance department premieres ‘The Last, Best Small Town’

By Allison Larrimore, April 23, 2024

As the Department of Theatre and New Dance gears up for their production of “The Last, Best Small Town,” the cast prepares to bring a contemporary story of love, loss and change to life in a time where audiences may connect the themes of the narrative with their own experiences.

Written by John Guerra, the play is a modern adaptation of the classic “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder and explores the realities and limitations of the American dream through the similar-yet-different perspectives of two neighboring Latinx and white families during the Great Recession in the mid-2000s.

Despite the gloom and loss in the play, the characters are able to find hope and love in the midst of it all. | Courtesy of The Department of Theatre and New Dance

“There are eight characters, two families that really are trying their best, and they let us into what it feels to lose, like what it feels to really want something and not get it and then have to say ‘yes’ to what you get instead and keep going,” said Sayda Trujillo, an assistant professor in the theatre department and director of this production.

Trujillo also discussed the depth of the actors’ work into making their characters seem more real beyond the surface level of just being people they portray onstage.

“I have tried to get them to really be curious about the people they’re playing and go really deep in terms of not just creating a stereotype of those characters but actually explore their lineage and why they say what they say and explore their dreams and their purpose in life,” said Trujillo, proud of the cast’s engagement with their roles and each other. “I have a sense that we have built a real community on trust and respect.”

Joseph Montoya, a theatre student who plays a son of the Latinx family, Elliot Gonzalez utilizes his own personal experiences and feelings as a college student to embody his character’s personality and motives.

“I’m able to express myself through my character because I feel like Elliot is a lot like how I am as a person,” said Montoya. “It’s really fulfilling to not just have to play someone, but being able to live as someone else who is very similar to me.” 

Ethan Serrano, a theatre student who plays Elliot’s father, Benny Gonzalez, also taps into the relatability factor by emphasizing his character’s fatigue in his acting to accurately portray the type of person he is and his lifestyle.

“This is a character who works all day, working long hours,” said Serrano. “He gets called in, pulled away from his family at times to just work, and it’s very relatable for people who are just so busy, they don’t have time to do the things they want.” 

Audiences can expect a show about family bonds, generational expectations and the American dreams having various paths for everyone, according to Serrano.

When the cast and crew met with Guerra and discussed his perspective on the play’s events as the playwright, he mentioned one overarching theme that stood out to Montoya and Trujillo – the American dream had failed both families.

Trujillo hopes the story will resonate with those who come to see the play and make them reflect on their own experiences and wishes for their lives.

“To me, the most important thing is to understand the play from not an intellectual place, but from a physical place, like a guttural place,” said Trujillo. “This play is about real people, real families that try to do their best in (financial hardship).”

“The Last, Best Small Town” runs from April 18 to April 24 at the University Theater, with 7:30 p.m. showings Thursday through Saturday, a 2 p.m. showing on Sunday and 7:30 p.m. showings Tuesday and Wednesday. Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased on the department’s Tix website.

One major theme in “The Last, Best Small Town” is the bond between family. | Courtesy of The Department of Theatre and New Dance

Feature image courtesy of the Department of Theatre and New Dance 

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