[Editor’s Note: Mild spoilers are contained. If you want to read Our Town with wholly fresh eyes, go pick that up first.]
On Saturday, October 3rd, I had the opportunity to see Marywood’s theater performance of Our Town, the notable American masterpiece written by playwright Thornton Wilder.
A staple of many middle school, high school, and even college drama curriculae (including some of our own), the play has served to represent small town America and American ideals since its inception. With its own clever blend of humor, wisdom, and tragedy, Our Town is a timeless gem; regardless of who is seeing is when, the message will always be the same.
Having read the play four or five times myself and having loved it more and more each time, needless to say, I was ecstatic to see it finally. And in no manner was I disappointed.
[For anyone reading this piece who has not read Our Town before: I highly recommend it. Suffice it to say, it is a must-read, and a short read at that. It ends as quickly as it starts, and there is a certain beauty to that.]
The production was incredible. Much of the stage direction and contents of Our Town are so difficult to understand without a whole group of people serving as the live audience, let alone having the visuals to demonstrate what is actually happening.
For example, seeing the two sets of chairs onstage with the mothers moving about the kitchens, the husbands going in and out of the houses and up and down the streets, and the children scurrying about to school side by side makes far more sense in real-time. Everything is quicker, more immediate, and truer to the story’s essence.
Furthermore, the stage manager’s effect in text alone serves little justice to the real effect of the stage manager to a live audience. His setting of the scene only to hop in and out of it, quite literally directing the action, keeps the audience oddly immersed; one would think action constantly being stopped and tweaked would not be immersive, but Wilder’s stage manager is anything but interruptive.
Before my detailing becomes ad nauseam, I will say lastly that the humor is very difficult to catch at times in text form. The mood at times can be difficult to follow as you try and follow along with the names of two separate families. However, on stage, you easily see the ebb and flow of the town, and you feel a part of the quips. The humor may very well have been the biggest surprise to me in a live production; it serves such an important role that I felt was a challenge to dive into through a paperback.
Kudos to the wonderful cast, crew, directors, and producers of Our Town. Below I shall offer brief thoughts on the moral of Our Town, so again I use a disclaimer.
[MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.]
The message of Our Town is poignant in text, and surely more so on stage. As the dead arrived at their graves to stare blankly forward during the intermission between Acts II and III, an eerie silence fell over the audience, despite no light flickering or anything to indicate the show was about to continue. It is riveting, and although the audience did not know they were dead yet, they knew something fascinating was happening.
When George Gibbs, played powerfully by sophomore theater major Kenneth Doyle, comes on stage to sob at his wife’s grave only for the deceased to speak over him apathetically, it is an emotionally stirring scene that brings to light Wilder’s theme of taking life for granted.
And while we don’t live in Grover’s Corners, there’s a little bit of Grover’s Corners wherever we go. We ought to take it all in while we can. Even our worst days we should take in; we have but one shot at them.
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