Thornton Wilder once wrote a story about a New England town whose citizens experience love and loss, where time marches inexorably forward, and where an idealistic lad learns that fate doesn’t always reward a good heart. That novel, Theophilus North, was the last major manuscript that was published in his lifetime. The resemblance to Wilder’s play Our Town is striking: A melancholy humanism connects both pieces, as does a sense of innocence sundered. Matthew Burnett’s stage adaptation of Theophilus North intelligently if somewhat hokily brings those thematic undercurrents to life. Young Theophilus (Giorgio Litt) arrives in Newport, Rhode Island. He’s quickly occupied by the town’s wealthy eccentrics, who give him small jobs at first and then adopt him as one of their own. Good-intentioned Theophilus sees the opportunity to enlighten his repressed friends, but his plans unexpectedly backfire.
Nuanced acting all around imparts some depth to the play’s predictable life lessons. In an inventive comic touch, the ensemble takes turns personifying Newport’s various buildings and historic landmarks. Theophilus North is no Our Town, but the production’s affection for its flawed characters and their big dreams never feels less than genuine.