Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Our Town by Thornton Wilder (1938)

Summary:  A Stage Manager leads audiences through the fictional town of Grover's Corners in three acts:  Daily Life, Love and Marriage, Death and Eternity.  The Stage Manager remains central to the narrative as we watch other characters age, marry and eventually die.  A primary appeal of the play is that this town could be any town--just like yours or mine, with people reminiscent of our own neighbors.

Thoughts:  It seems crazy to me that I made it out of high school without reading this play, but I did.  Though this is a predecessor to Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth (1943 Pulitzer Prize), the playwright's ability to handle an extremely broad scope of material through individual (perhaps archetypal?) characters is astounding.  People continue to produce Our Town because it is essentially timeless.  Though the actions of the family sometimes date the play (chopping wood for mother, going on dates to get ice cream sodas), their feelings about the subjects listed in the three acts are inherently relatable, if not universal.

In February of 2009, director David Cromer mounted a new production of Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York.  The production raked in critical acclaim, with Cromer starring as the Stage Manager.  During the two and a half year run, several actors have played the Stage Manager including:  David Cromer, Stephen Kunken, Michael Shannon, Michael McKean and Helen Hunt.  The show closed on September 12, 2010 with Cromer reprising his role as the Stage Manager for the final performance days before it was announced that he was the recipient of a 2010 MacArthur Genius Grant.

I also had the privilege of seeing this production (on the same day as Fences, actually).  Michael Shannon's performance was absolutely unbelievable; but the other actors were sometimes distractingly bad, other times simply not remarkable.  The most stunning moment I have ever seen in theatre or film happened in the middle of the third act and I left the theatre knowing that it was something that I would never forget.

"...That is the sole extraordinary touch in a production that is in most ways ordinary, and I think purposely and profitably so. Wilder sought to make sacraments of simple things. In “Our Town” he cautioned us to recognize that life is both precious and ordinary, and that these two fundamental truths are intimately connected."
-Charles Isherwood:  The New York Times, February 27, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Did the moment have anything to do with sunflowers and coffee (Read: Am I thinking what you were thinking?)?