Monday, February 12, 2007

"Our Town," Thornton Wilder: A great playwrite, but a lousy navigator

I had the great pleasure of taking in Trinity Repertory Company's production of "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder last night. This timeless American classic in three acts is fresh and relevant as though it was written yesterday. I had seen "Our Town" performed once before, over 20 years ago at the Summer Theater in Ogunguit Maine.

The play begins with the Stage Manager narrating.

The name of the town is Grover's Corners, New Hampshire-just across the Massachusetts line: latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees 37 minutes. The first Act shows a day in our town. The day is May 7, 1901.
I read that the fictional town of Grover's Corners was modelled on Peterborough, or perhaps another small New Hampshire town, so I mapped the location. To my surprise the position is off the coast of Cape Anne in Sandy Bay near Rockport, MA at the approximate location of Dodge Rock. I would like to think that anticipating the success of "Our Town," Wilder intentionally selected this nearby offshore location to preclude future comparisons of Grover's Corners with a real place.

Despite this minor geographical detail, both the script and Trinity's production deliver simple, but compelling messages about the human condition.

Our Town helps the audience focus on the deeper meaning of life which often slips by unnoticed among the rush of mundane everyday tasks like making breakfast, getting children off to school, and choir practice.

Now there are some things we all know , but we don't take 'em out and look at'm very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being. You know as well as I do that the dead don't stay interested in us living people for very long. Gradually, gradually, they loose hold of the earth... and the ambitions they had...and the pleasures they had...and the things they suffered...and the people they loved. They get weaned away from the earth-that's the way I put it,-weaned away.

And they stay here while the earth part of 'em burns away, burns out; and all that time they slowly get indifferent to what's goin' on in Grover's Corners.

Some of the things they're going to say maybe'll hurt your feelings-but that's the way it is: mother'n daughter...husband 'n wife...enemy'n 'n miser...all those terribly important things grow pale around here.

Babies are born, a couple falls in love, marries, some grow old.

Emily's final scene is a reminder to celebrate and savor life today and every day.

"Oh Mama, just look at me one minute as if you really saw me.

I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another." She goes on, speaking so only the Stage Manager can hear: "I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed."

Thornton Wilder, 1897-1975. "Our Town" won the Pulitzer prize for Drama in 1938.

I recommend you see it if you get a chance. Playing now through March 4, 2007

Quotes from "Our Town" were taken from Twelve American Plays, 1920-1960 Edited by Richard Corbin & Miriam Balf, Charles Scribner's Sons, NY 1969

Here is Trinity's Video Clip about the play.
Our Town at TRC

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was a fund raiser for the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce one year about 30 years ago. I had the same inkling about the GPS. Saw a bronze plate at the beginning of Rockport's artst colony Bearskin Neck with nearly the same GPS! In the course of telemarketing for donations, I got to speak to an elder lady named Effie Grover who lived at an intersection called Five Corners. Another Grover family lift just a few doors from the intersection. I ran all this by Mrs. Grover and the only response I got was an amused chuckle. Hmm... On the noth side of Rockport is an area called Dog Town. An old granite quarry which one might have polished. Hmm.. At one intersection in town, a beech tree had recently been cut down. Right in the intersection. Hmm... I had noticed a LOT of sunflowers growing behing white pucket fences in town. Hmm.. I just found a hand written letter from Thornton Wilder dated Dec 12, 1962 saying how he missed Rockport! A few other minor things I noticed about the Main Street area that had similarities but maybe coincidences. I'm pretty much convinced that Rockport was a major influence on Grover's Corners!! I feel like it's a secret that very few have discovered. I still love Effie's chuckle! LOL
Bryan MacMartin - New Orleans