Our Town

This play was written in 1937 by Thornton Wilder and won the Pulitzer in 1938.

It is set in Grovers Corners, NH., ostensibly in a theatre with a stage manager setting things up for the audience.  As such the audience is very much involved–in fact the stage mgr here, played by David Cromer who also directed, handed Chris some questions to ask and so he became part of the production.

This revival is the longest running of any Our Town revival.  It is a stark production, taking place on a mostly bare stage, the only lighting being the same bright lit room in which we all sat.  As the audience is so much part of the play, I found myself looking around at other audience members during the action.  Actors entered from various corners of the room and at one point the young George Gibbs and Emily Webb are talking window to window while the actors are seated on chairs atop tables.  So is the set. 

One distraction:   the preparation and service of food and drink was all pantomimed, yet the snapping of peas used real peas and bowls.  I didn’t get that.  I would have preferred seeing utensils, coffee cups, plates used throughout, but was baffled at the inconsistency here.  One big challenge for a director is to keep people from distraction and mind wandering which  leads to missing lines.  Fortunately, the play was strong and well directed enough to minimize that effect.

The last act takes place in a graveyard.  Everyone on stage is dead, yet they deliver lines and, although bereft of emotion, their intellects seem unimpaired.  Still, young Emily, just today interred, yearns for a return to life, if only for a moment, to feel it more richly than she was able when alive.  She is granted that privilege and with the drawing of an upstage curtain, a richly colored and lit set emerges.  Ah, we get it now.  Life is so richly hued and flavored, such aromas, that we, the audience, get that we live our lives only experiencing a fraction of its richness.  To now-passed Emily the sounds, feelings and aromas are overwhelmingly full and she now knows that she must return to her new neighbors and give up real life forever.  Just knowing how much she missed is unbearable for her to experience any longer.  At least her graveyard cohabitants are real.  They know the truth and truth is somehow more important to the dead than the flavors of foods and relationships.

So we are left with the feeling that our lives are also lived in that way and we must struggle against those forces which direct us into living trivial little lives, bereft of all but the trace of experience which is ripe for the picking in every moment.  We wish with all our might that we could break through that barrier and live richly and meaningfully. 

Not to worry.  It will pass.