Welcoming New Student Subscribers and Saying Goodbye to a Great OUR SUBURB Team

Thursday night was another wonderful one-of-a-kind evening at the theater, with a tight,  well-received performance and a totally unique conversation with strong panelists, and 70+ audience members sticking around (out of 160 in the house) for a stimulating conversation about the sociology of Suburbia, or what we were calling “The Story of Sprawl.” It was also a night we were welcoming back our playwright, Darrah Cloud, who was making another pilgrimage  to DC with her family together with the creative nucleus of  Half-Moon Theatre Company, her artistic community up in Poughkeepsie, NY.

And it was a night for welcoming 21 new student subscribers who were seeing their first of four shows with Theater J (not counting a passel of optional readings as well) and we’ll be hearing from them in the Comments section below. Last night was their first night seeing a show in DC, and it was the first class session for my University of Michigan-sponsored course (for UM’s “Michigan in Washington” program) on Political Theater. This semester, in addition to students from the Ann Arbor campus, we have students from UC Berkeley and Santa Cruz, Notre Dame, and Carnegie Mellon University who are all here doing political or non-profit sector internships by day and taking at night. The theme for Round 16 of the course: “The Architecture of Community” as we study the “Power and Politics, Dramas and Dynamics of Building Community Through The Transmission of Art” with our case study, starting in March, being “The Middle East Conflict On Stage.” We should learn a lot.

So we’re eager to read what our student subscribers had to say about Our Suburb, particularly after hearing the dynamic discussion between our playwright and professors Mary Corbin Sies of the University of Maryland and Suleiman Osman, from the George Washington University. Both look at questions of suburbanization, how suburbia is depicted in our culture, and the demographic shifts in our nation’s suburbs over the past 75 years. Professor Osman framed the discussion of by appreciating  the play’s alternating between a “Utopian” and a “Dystopian” vision of everything right and everything wrong in the American way of life. Professor Sies was interested in the multiple meanings of the word “Humdrum,” picking up on an earlier post of ours that alluded to uses of that word in reviews hugely positive for the original production of Our Town, and, alas,  less so for ours. We refer students back for both so they might weigh in, if they so choose.

And, finally, alack, we prepare to say goodbye to our fabulous Our Suburb company. Darrah was just beside herself with joy last night at the warmth of the entire experience; from performance, to reception, to connection with artists, audience, staff. It’s been a superb collaboration, as all our mushy, wonderful facebook toasts can testify. Enjoy a few!

Director Judith Ivey,  playwright Darrah Cloud, and cast member Jjana Valentiner

Director Judith Ivey, playwright Darrah Cloud, and cast member Jjana Valentiner

Darrah, cast member JJ Johnson, and Judy!

Darrah, cast member JJ Johnson, and Judy!

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34 responses to “Welcoming New Student Subscribers and Saying Goodbye to a Great OUR SUBURB Team

  1. Hearing that a local theater is producing an homage to “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder left me a little apprehensive. An attempt to write an homage to the quintessential American classic is a daunting task for any playwright, and the somewhat clunky title did little assuage my doubts. I was honestly prepared to be thoroughly underwhelmed by the reworking of the classic, especially considering that “Our Town” was, in a way, my first introduction to theater, and holds a very special place in my heart.

    To put it bluntly, I stand corrected. “Our Suburb” not only far outshone its somewhat awkward title, it actually may have been even more emotionally impactful for me personally than “Our Town” was. That may have been because of the age of the protagonist throughout the show: Cloud’s Emily equivalent (though quite her own person), Thornton, was in the last stages of high school and about to possibly enter college before her untimely (or very timely) demise at the end of the second act.

    It’s hard to put a finger on what it was about this play that hit me so hard. It certainly was, in many ways, much closer to my life than Wilder’s was. But it did manage to hit upon those points that resonated within the whole audience, except for apparently the somewhat soulless, bizarrely blasé writer of this Washington Post review. I could hear several people throughout the audience sobbing during the performance.

    It’s like what Darah said during the talkback when I asked her why she chose to wrote her memories of Skokie, Illinois in the form of an homage to Wilder’s classic–”I couldn’t figure out why I loved it so much, and I didn’t want to love it.” When I first read “Our Town,” I didn’t really like it. I didn’t get it. I thought it was boring. But then I read it a few years later, and it suddenly became tragic and beautiful and way too real.

    That’s how “Our Suburb” felt–so real that it was actually physically painful. I know those families and I’ve seen those houses. I’ve felt that way. I’ve had that conversation. There are some plays that take you out of yourself, and there are others that take you out and then shove you back in so hard that your bones rattle. That’s what this play did. I left it wanting to live my life, to go out and fall in love and do something and feel something and be something.

    So this play was about suburbia, but to me, it was about a lot more than that. Like all the greats–Wilder, Miller, Williams–this one was about what it means to be human. It was about home and family, heartbreak and anger, loving people and losing people. I’ll probably never go to Skokie, but I’ll fall in love. I’ll have my heart broken. I’ll watch someone I love destroy themselves. I’ll lose home and find home and lose it again. And as interesting as American suburbia is, what impressed me was Cloud’s ability to capture these universal but also intensely personal moments. The vision of the director and the beautiful portrayals from the actors helped make it a reality.

    It was by no means a perfect play. There were moment of clumsy language and flashes of unrealistic dialogue. But the play is still in the revision process, and the substance of it hit me in a way I didn’t anticipate. It wasn’t just “Our Town” updated for a suburban world, it was a play of its own that managed to hit the same beautiful, aching chords. I hope to see this play go very far–a New York run wouldn’t be amiss. I’d love the chance to see it again.

    • Megan Steinmetz

      I definitely agree that “Our Suburb” successfully commented on the very broad theme of what it means to be human. I was surprised by how much I connected with many scenes throughout the play, including the ones that depicted seemingly insignificant day-to-day happenings. I also saw this while reading “Our Town” for the first time. The theme of the meaning in everyday life is only amplified when Emily delivers her monologue post-death. Here, she says good-bye to all of the things she will miss in her life. Among these she lists coffee, food, and hot baths. She says “Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

      I think one of the main accomplishments of both “Our Town” and “Our Suburb” was its ability to challenge their audiences to appreciate the meaning of everyday life.

  2. As a student who attended the play yesterday evening I enjoyed not only the show itself, but also the engaging discussion held afterwards. One aspect of the play I appreciated, but that was not brought up in conversation, was the narrative voice. The Stage Manager not only narrated the play, but several times also questioned the crowd, and in a humorous twist, fulfilled the roles of both Lisa Edelman and Annie Major. A particular scene that vividly stood out to me was when the Stage Manager turned inward, and began questioning the characters about their suburb: “How many of the Jewish families in Skokie experienced the Nazi death camps in a direct way?” “Is there much drinking in Skokie?” “What about adultery?” “What about social injustice?” The Stage Manager’s varying roles – ranging from acting in the play, addressing the audience and prompting the characters – transcended the typically polished narrative voice and, in my opinion, created a more inclusive viewing environment. The flaws she unearthed and explicitly made note of, as well as the imperfectness of her role and of her lines, created a heightened level of humanity. Likely it was Ms. Cloud’s intent to illustrate the play in line with the way in which she personally views Skokie: flawed, hectic, and tragic, yet humorous, hopeful, and loveable – and I felt as though the Stage Manager’s commentary was perfectly in line with this intent. Ms. Cloud’s commentary on the suburb of Skokie is also applicable to suburbs across the nation. Though it has only been a couple years since I left my own hometown, I too view it as a sad and inadequate place, yet I know that I will never really be able to ever let it go. I am still enchanted by Main Street and still find solace in revisiting old childhood monuments. Like Ms. Cloud noted yesterday evening, it’s not that you can never come home – it’s that you can never leave home.

    • Joe Grathwohl

      I agree that the stage manager is a very appropriate part of Our Suburb. After having read the script, I further appreciate Jjana Valentiner’s rendition. The Stage Manager provides a humorous side to the otherwise rather depressing play. What is perhaps more important, though is that the Stage Manager gives us access to the inner workings of the Major and Edelman households. I liked what you said about an inclusive viewing environment. I think Darrah Cloud uses the Stage Manager to make a point of how households within suburbia function. Generally households in suburbia are very separate and closed in. I think it thus very appropriate that we, the audience, need the Stage Manager to let us in to each family’s home. It’s not just nice how the Stage Manager creates this inclusive viewing environment, it’s essential in this suburb that the Stage Manager opens the door.

  3. Seeing the portrayal of Skokie, Ill. in this play reminded me of Detroit in the 1960′s. My parents lived in the suburbs during that time period, and both note that the race riots were a topic everyone discussed in their homes. It was much like the play’s focus of the drama surrounding the neo-Nazi’s petition to march in a parade and how each family dealt with the situation. My parents are from different suburbs that held entirely different ethnic make-ups, and each of their home dynamics differed substantially. These differences, however, didn’t change the fact that their homes were both filled with discussions about what was going on in the city at the time.
    I also couldn’t help but notice how much I identified with Thornton. Though I grew up in a sleepy setting much more like Grover’s Corner, N.H. than the chain-restaurant infested Skokie, Ill., I too had the same ambitions as Thornton of using knowledge to escape the “humdrum” nature of her hometown. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that she seriously considers the decision to postpone college in order to stay home with her high school boyfriend. Admittedly, she is making the decision for herself and based off of what she perceives will make her happy, but what I think the author intended to convey (a “you can’t really ever leave home” philosophy) would have been more meaningful to me had the ties holding her back been more complex than a boy she met only a few months before. Unfortunately, the author attaches the female lead to a male romantic interest, Ricky, and assumes that her need to help him realize his dream of starting a jazz club becomes more important than 17 years full of collegiate aspirations. It made it hard for me to root for Thornton when her aim of escaping a complex and difficult family life turned into a mission to help Ricky achieve his goals.

    • Like you, I often used to dream of college as a way to get out of my boring, suburban and mundane life. Like Thornton too, I thought there had to be more out there than the homogenous town I grew up in and looked for any way to get out… which ultimately led me to pack my bags and move 600 miles to the lovely place that we call Ann Arbor. While there was a piece of me that wanted Ricky and Thornton to last and stay together, I struggled with the notion that Thornton would give up all her hopes, dreams and aspirations to stay with a boy that she had been dating for 4 months. In fact, I have seen this same act happen again and again through my friends and peers in high school. I suppose when you love someone you are more willing to make sacrifices and tough decisions. However, like you also mentioned, it is unfathomable that Thornton would give up 17 years of collegiate aspirations all for a boy. Yet, we will never be able to truly know what decision she would of made due to Thornton’s tragic and shocking death.

    • Garrett Kessler

      Katie, I definitely agree with your sentiment about Thornton and postponing her college plans for her boyfriend. I think that women have been given more and more prominent roles in all aspects of entertainment culture, and the general trend of female characters is that they take care of themselves for the most part. Leaving home is always difficult, but I think the play would have been stronger if Thornton had a better reason to stay home, such as her mom filing for divorce and staying to support her. Thornton seemed far above Ricky in terms of career prospects and ambition level, so it definitely seemed like she was settling. At the beginning of the play, she seemed like a strong, driven lead who wasn’t looking to complete her life with a boyfriend. Dreams and hometown sentiment have a kind of equilibrium, and prior to her death, Thornton couldn’t seem to find that.

  4. Megan Steinmetz

    One of the opening lines of “Our Suburb” stuck with me. It is the line where Mrs. Edelman notes, with some sadness, that “Everything’s over: World War Two, Korea, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s rights movement, Viet Nam…” This line is in response to the Stage Manager asking the characters to describe their surroundings and what it is like to live in Skokie, Illinois.
    I am not entirely sure why this line impacted me so much. I do not think the playwright, Darrah Cloud, intended for this to be a particularly powerful line. Yet I continued to think about it throughout the play, especially in the scenes that seemingly contradicted it. How could Mrs. Edelman think that the effects of World War Two were over when Nazis were threatening to march in her so-called “safe” suburb? How could anyone think women’s rights were a thing of the past when right next door to Mrs. Edelman, Mrs. Major suffered because she felt stuck in a strained marriage, with no opportunities for meaningful advancement?
    The entire play resonated with me on a very personal level. I grew up in a relatively secure suburb of Cleveland, where many people, much like Thornton, believed that in order to experience the “real world,” it was necessary to leave. I remember learning about historical events, like wars and genocides, and feeling like our small community was immune to those atrocities. But really, we weren’t.
    In 1963, a political theorist named Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “The Banality of Evil.” This concept was used to explain that many people involved in the Holocaust were not inherently evil. Mostly, the were normal people who were acting in accordance with norms established by their surroundings. To me, “Our Suburb” encompasses many of the ideas surrounding The Banality of Evil. It showed, among other things, that evils can exist in places where people think they are immune – and often these can be that much more painful, because no one is expecting them. Like Mrs. Edelman said, she believed World War II was over, but really, its effects continued to harm her family.

    • It’s definitely interesting that there was this sort of idea of post-danger in the play. In addition to the line about everything being over, something that struck me was the line, “You can’t see the stars because of the streetlights they put in for safety.” It was this bizarre belief that they could shut out the rest of the world, good or bad, to make themselves safe. I also grew up in a suburb, outside of Denver, so I also understand the idea that to experience the “real world,” you have to leave. I think that “Our Suburb” did a good job of showing that you can never really shut those evils, or just the outside world, out. And I agree with you that sometimes those evils that manage to breach that supposed safety are even more painful.

      I think you hit on something else, too–the belief that World War II wouldn’t come back to harm them also has an idea of the effect of time, and that we believe that the past no longer has any effect on us, which just isn’t true. It was like Thornton, who believed that if she could only see far enough into the future, all of the problems would be over and everyone would be living the lives they always wanted to live, but there was no real reason that time should have changed everything, and it hadn’t.

    • I agree with you on your points about your suburban background and experiences. I also grew up in a fairly safe and secure suburb. While yours was in Cleveland and mine was in Pittsburgh, there are many similarities between the two. The people I grew up with and called my fellow students felt the same as Thornton and even my self about leaving the suburb for the “real world.”
      You bring up another good point in discussing how you felt about the sense of safety in regards to global events. Looking back, I felt the same way. Learning about history and the events that comprise it, everything seemed so distant and we almost seemed immune. But as we grew up, we learned that’s not the truth, and the characters of Skokie in “Our Suburb” also learned that this is not the truth. Nobody is immune, nowhere is safe.

  5. Humdrum (noun): dull because of being too familiar and lacking variety.
    While this word was used to describe Our Suburb, this performance was anything but dull or lacking variety. Though it did begin slowly and steadily, I think this was deliberate. The drama progressed gradually, rising to a crescendo when Thornton dies, and ended with the audience mesmerized by each of the stage manager’s final words. The pace and progress of Our Suburb perhaps mirrors suburban life: slow at the beginning until you start seeking the central truths at the center of one’s environment. At the post-performance discussion, someone commented, “Skokie is the best and the worst place at the same time.” I think all of us suburbanites can relate to this. It is until you are dropped in the middle of a big, unfamiliar city, in which people will run you over if you stand on the wrong side of an escalator, that you realize your suburban home is your utopia, your cocoon of comfort.
    I find it interesting that Darrah Cloud, the playwright, did not adapt a Romeo and Juliet type story for Thornton and Ricky. Ricky comes from a solid, nuclear Jewish family while Thornton’s Christian family is crumbling. It is refreshing that despite coming from dissimilar circumstances these two characters do not let these differences hinder their relationship. In addition, I was pleased that they had support from their relatives to be together which I think speaks to the character of a socially accepting and evolving Skokie. Furthermore, the acting was impressive and Jjana Valentiner as the stage manager was received exceptionally well by the audience. In regard to the setting, I was wondering if the scaffolding representing the Edelman’s house was purposely set slightly behind the Major’s house. Is there any reason they were not set in line parallel to one another?

    Our Suburb is a must see if you have the opportunity. It is a wonderful chance to stop and reflect on where us suburbanites come from and where we are going.

    • Bridget Galassini

      I noticed that Our Suburb started slowly as well, so at first I did not like the pace of the play. However, I like thinking about it how Kelly proposed, that it was commenting on how at first suburban life can seem slow, boring, and “humdrum” because one seems to be missing a lot compared to life in the city, but as one is immersed in the life of a suburb, the intricacies of the suburb can become familiar and exciting. The Baskin Robbins, the Burger King, the mall, Dempster Street, everything becomes part of the people who live there and makes the suburb home and familiar. This relates to how at the end of the play, Thornton says that maybe no one can ever leave Skokie, because even when she has the option to after her death, she chooses to stay. I relate to this well. I grew up in Northbrook, IL, which is about 15-20 minutes from Skokie. When stuck in the world of suburbia, there was nothing that my friends and I wanted more than to get out, so we would spend most of our time in the city. But now looking back, the people and places of Northbrook are familiar and safe to me, and part of me will never leave because it will always be home.

    • I agree with Kelly that the play, Our Suburb, was not dull nor did it lack variety. During the post-show discussion there was a lot of discussion of the word “humdrum” and it was used to describe the performance. Humdrum could be used to describe the suburb of Skokie but I don’t think it properly captures the performance in the best light. The drama within the performance progressed slowly; I agree that it could be done intentionally to mirror suburban life. Although this play included several aspects of the standard suburb it is also provides the audiences with glimpses of excitement. The teenage romance and the backdrop of the Nazi’s marching was a great diversion of the systematic events of the town.

      Many of the characters described Skokie as one of the best and worse places to live at the same time. It made sense within this play, but I could not particularly relate to it. I am not from a suburb, maybe that is where a disconnect stems from. The feeling of Skokie being both the best and worst place to live mostly stems from Thornton’s character. However, I did not view her having these feelings at the same time. She began the performance, wanting to get as far away as possible, and then she began contemplating staying after her feelings increased for Ricky. I found it particularly interesting that both families were accepting of this teenage love affair. Although there was some mild humor regarding the religious beliefs of the two families, there wasn’t any strong disapproval. Both characters seem to have different goals and dreams for themselves but it was interesting to see how their love changed them. Ricky was pressed to stay in Skokie and potentially run his father’s business while Thornton wanted to go to college on the other side of the country. Mid-way through the play Thornton wanted to take some time off before she went to college and Ricky was willing to travel with Thornton to wherever she decided to go to school. Their romance was refreshing and relatable.

      Our Suburb is a play that I would recommend to my peers. It gave me the opportunity to understand the complexities of suburban life. Although, I do not think I can personally live in a suburb it was great to see Darrah Cloud’s version of it.

  6. Garrett Kessler

    “Our Suburb” was a unique look at American culture post WWII. One point brought up during the post-play discussion that resonated with me is the idea that in suburbia, there is so much that happens, and at the same time, not really anything at all. This is what was described as humdrum. I feel like this is the way the world has become, and it definitely can be applied to our lives today. There is no such thing as ordinary. Every family has its problems and its struggles and its triumphs. The same thing goes at the individual level. But when these small events are looked at from an aggregate perspective, they don’t culminate in anything noteworthy on a broad scale. That is to say, just because there are a lot of internal and personal going-ons, that doesn’t mean it becomes interesting to people who are not directly connected to the smaller events. This is present in my own life when I see old friends from high school. So much has happened in my life, but it’s hard to pick specific events to elaborate on.
    On another note, the character arc of Thornton was pretty disappointing to me. It seemed a little bit comical that she would put off college to stay in Skokie with Ricky. It’s not that Ricky wasn’t a good guy, but he was a dead-end. The kid completely lacked ambition. Thornton was applying to very prestigious colleges. Yale. Brown. Those aren’t dreams that most people give up on because they meet someone new. I understand the allure of the hometown, and the fact that it’s difficult to leave a familiar environment. There is something incredibly affecting about being home, but most people with serious ambition understand those feelings of yearning for comfort are outweighed by the knowledge that they have an opportunity to become somebody. Thornton had big dreams, and it was sad to know that she was ready to abandon those at the time of her death. I understand the playwright’s message that you can never leave home, but I wish Thornton had stayed more future-focused, or would have had a better reason to stay home than just a guy.

    • I find the notion that there is no such thing as “ordinary” pretty fascinating, especially since it seems as if everyone in Our Suburb is trying so hard to present an image of normality. This play did a great job of exposing how fighting to keep everything together is disastrous (the steady erosion of Mrs. Major’s “perfect” life comes to mind). The characters are constantly fighting between expressing their individuality and acquiescing to the status quo. Ricky is his goofy, whimsical self when he is with Thornton, but we see he battles internally with following in his father’s footsteps and remaining a butcher or following his dream of opening a jazz club. Mrs. Edelman challenges the status quo by returning to school to become a lawyer, and I find it very clever that the playwright makes her one of the happiest characters in the play.

  7. On the first day of class I expected to get lectured for a few hours, but to my surprise we got a chance to view the play Our Suburb by Darrah Cloud. I have seen several plays on Broadway in my hometown of New York, but this is the first time I have viewed a performance from a critical lens. The setting of this play took place in a suburb Skokie, Illinois; each character had unique perspective of this suburb. Two families were juxtaposed within the play; one family was made up of German Jews that presented an extended family and the other was composed of a white ethnic background with a nuclear family type. The play reiterated the middles class stereotypes of suburbia, both families owned their homes, they had a backyard and a fence that sectioned off their house from neighbors. This suburb was a mix between what seemed to be a paradise and at the same time a superficial place to live.
    Each character had mixed feelings about their small town. Thornton wanted to move as far away from this suburb as possible and go to college. Her feelings began to shift as she became involved in a romance with her neighbor Ricky. The romance between the two teenagers, although weird at the start, was totally believable on stage. The actors had a chemistry that made the play vibrant and also more relatable to the audience. Both families embraced this romance and didn’t show any real opposition, I assumed that it was because both families lived in this tight knit community. Each character in the play attempted to find both happiness and security while living in this suburb but they didn’t seem to have much control. The ending of the play was a striking compared to how the play began, none of the characters actually made it out of there small suburb. When I asked Darrah Cloud about this aspect of the play her reasoning for ending on this note was because “you can never actually leave home”. Although this message was brief, it was powerful; regardless of where you go in your life people always will remember their home. The teenage characters didn’t seem to enjoy their suburban lifestyle, and what began as a safe place especially for the parents and grandparents quickly transformed when news hit about the Nazi’s coming to march on July 4.
    There was an underlining argument about the first amendment and the freedoms that are protected by law. The grandmother was extremely against the Nazi’s marching in their suburb strictly because of her past experiences in Germany, which makes sense. However, her daughter that was going to college again was able to convince her to trust in the law. The Nazi Party apparently was not coming to commit criminal acts, but they just wanted to have the right to march. Overall the play was well put together and it was humorous majority of the time until it reached the tragic moments where the girl Thornton was kidnapped and killed. This safe suburb quickly changed from a paradise into a dismal place to live. I did not understand the significance of LC Minor’s character in certain scenes. I viewed him as an attempt to represent the African American population, he is a talented actor but at times he seemed to be thrown in there. I was unsure if there was some sort of romantic between LC Minor and the wife with the drinking problem. I feel like his character should have been developed further because if not his character can easily be misunderstood. I enjoyed the performance, the cast of actors was great and the post show discussion provided a great deal of insight. Usually I watch a play and I leave, but the post show discussion allowed for me to view the performance in a critical way; it is a great tool for students to learn.

  8. I found Our Suburb to be an excellent portrayal of suburban life and the inability of people to leave their hometown and a thoroughly enjoyable play to watch. What struck me as even most powerful was its idea that even in death, individuals carry on as observers of those they left behind. Mrs. Witcoff describes this perfectly, sobbing, “They’re gone! All gone! My piano teacher. My mathematics professor. My mother. My brother. My two little nieces. My father. Your sister. Your father.” The line left me with chills because of the profound sadness that results from the idea that the dead simply cease to exist and all that is left of them is a memory or a name. Yet, the play clearly argues that those that are “gone” are not truly gone from this world; they carry on with us even if we cannot hear them. The acting by those characters that died was by far the most powerful and effective in the play. They successfully portrayed both the love that the deceased have for those they leave behind in the living world and their desire to be with them.
    The stage manager explicitly states the plays argument in its closing that “If you really examine the strength of the human sprit, it’s hard to believe it just snaps out like a light at the end of a life. It has to find some other place to be, in other bodies. I think the dead make up the living.” Despite this beautiful sentiment, I feel that it steals some of the experience that the audience has gone through during the play. Instead of trusting the audience to learn for themselves the significance of those that have died, the stage manager cuts into the powerful statement of loyalty that Thorton gives to Ricky. More powerful than any narration, the deceased characters try to physically hold on to their living loved ones, even though they know the living cannot feel them. Therefore, while the stage manager serves as an excellent guide throughout the play, the narration becomes slightly distracting from the extremely thought provoking dialogue and acting.

  9. I have to preface my comments by stating that I have never lived in a suburb or have ever lived near Illinois. A little bit about my positioning… I grew up in the rural side of California all of my life. My exposure to the ‘theater’ is very limited; that is why I decided to take this class! I also want to give major props to all of the actors, the faculty on the panel, and the director. They are all very remarkable and talented people.

    “Our Suburb” makes a point about being human in this world of great social conflict. That point, at least to me, was the power of love and the role of memory. Whether it is the Holocaust or Slavery, many people have endured levels of trauma that require healing. This play demonstrated how important it is to always remember our own history and the struggles it took to get to where we are in the present. As in the case of the Edelman family, fleeing to suburbia didn’t mean they could permanently forget. This was portrayed in the discussion about the legal “battleground” with a Jewish attorney from ACLU trying to protect the rights of the group to protest.

    One important note that I thought was important to think about was the shaping of ethnic/racial identity in the suburbs. Both families were different culturally, but shared very similar class identities/struggles. I really wish there could have been more elaboration on the role of African-Americans in the suburb. The one character that we are presented with makes references to his daughter, but we didn’t get to see or hear very much about the complexity of the ‘African-American family’ during this time period.

    I really enjoyed the ending of the play. I was satisfied by the closure of the story line because it didn’t end in everyone permanently being erased after their deaths, but rather it touched on a spiritual dimension that I have yet to explore.

  10. Michelle Choi

    Admittedly, my expectations for “Our Suburb” were not very high, especially because of the unappealing title; one does not really get a sense of nostalgia or homesickness when one hears the word “suburb.” The opening scene was also a little chaotic and confusing, as the audience had to grasp a sense of the setting of the play while taking in the fact that the Stage Manager was juggling three different roles at the same tie. But once the wheels started turning and the plot unraveling, it was difficult not to get deeply involved in the story, largely because the characters were so easy to sympathize with. Though I had never heard of the town Skokie until about an hour before the opening act, I could relate to Thornton Major’s inner conflict between her ambitious desire to attend a prestigious college as far away form home as possible, and her longing to stay in her neighborhood with which she shares a love-hate relationship.

    I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, and throughout middle school and high school, my number one goal was to leave the state, and go as far away as possible. I was one of the few who felt this way, as most of my friends’ families had stayed in Oklahoma for many generations. It wasn’t until after spending a semester at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor that I realized how much I did miss my hometown, despite all of its shortcomings, and how difficult it was for me to leave my single mother alone in Norman. Still, I have no regrets, and frankly, I agree with Garrett and Katie in that I was a little disappointed and Thornton’s decision to stay in Skokie to be with Ricky.

    The ending of the play definitely came as a surprise to me. Like Katie, I was expecting a more “Romeo and Juliet” sort of romance between Thornton and Ricky because of their contrasting religious backgrounds, or a sort of scandalous affair between Mrs. Major and L.C. Minor, perhaps after another melodic phone call filled with sexual tension and after a couple glasses of wine on Mrs. Major’s part. Instead what occur are the unexpected death of Thornton and a series of events that go along with L.C.’s observation that life is not governed by fate or by randomness, but a combination of the two. Thornton’s death might have seemed random and cruel, but perhaps a romance such as Ricky’s and Thornton’s was bound to end tragically, and Ricky’s dream of owning a jazz club was simply never meant to be.

    While watching the play, I could not but help recalling The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, in which after being raped and murdered, Susie watches the lives of her friends and family fall apart as a result of her death. She, like Thornton, remains powerless in death and can do nothing more than observe the happenings of the living. In the novel, however, Susie’s death occurs at the very beginning and Susie plays a minor role. In “Our Suburb,” on the other hand, Thornton is the hero of the story, and she plays a more active role. Moreover, the emphasis of the plot is on the town of Skokie rather than the individual lives of the characters.

    • Michelle, I really enjoyed your post. I can definitely relate to your perspective because I was just as lost as you were at the beginning of the play. I also had felt the same way about my hometown while awaiting the beginning of college. I was surprised by her decision to stay in Skokie as well, but I wasn’t disappointed. I thought this helped to exemplify the personas of her parents, notably in the typewriter scene when they react to her decision. It shows the father as thrifty, but more importantly reveals the toll that Skokie (and her husband) has taken on Thorton’s mother. For me, this helped to understand the image of “suburbia” that Darrah Cloud portrayed.

  11. As the stage manager spoke her last lines and the lights went out leaving the theater in utter darkness, I could not help but think to myself, “that’s it?!” I wanted to see more, to feel more and to know more about the lives of both the Major and the Edelman family. Unanswered questions raced through my mind such as, “Does Mrs. Major leave Mr. Major for L.C.?” or “Does Ricky love his new wife the same way he truly loved Thornton?” While I do agree that the notion of being “stuck in suburbia” echoes throughout the play, it seems as though love connects the characters not only to each other but also to good ol’ Skokie itself.
    Although the characters may lead ‘hum-drum’ and ordinary lives, love challenges their lifestyle as many of the characters find love (or maybe just lust) where they least expect it. Maybe it is just as simple that love can be found in ordinary things or places like across one’s yard or from the comfort of a local grocery deliveryman. As “Our Suburb” proves, this type of “ordinary” love can also be everlasting. For example, after Thornton realizes that she is actually dead, she says to Ricky, “I’ll be with you. I will always be with you.” Although Ricky has “moved on” (or has he? We will never know) the fact that Thornton will always be there, watching over him proves that love found in the hum-drum environment of Skokie can last a life-time… and then some.
    I really enjoyed “Our Suburb” not just for the witty lines, sassiness of the stage manager or for the Jewish grandmother that almost too-similarly resembled my own, but because at the end of the show, it left me wanting more. That in it-self is a rarity, as some plays can often disappoint by being superficial or having inconclusive endings. “Our Suburb” truly made me think and reflect about the story, about the characters and even about my own life. I want to know who will be the ones in my life that will “always be with me.”

    • Caroline Schuitema

      I completely understand what you felt when you wondered if that was ALL. Didn’t it feel like so many plot lines were left hanging? We know, of course, that Ricky got married to someone else, that his mother continued to study law, that L.C. gave up on the piano – but we never found out how people felt about the Nazis ‘winning the right to march’ but not marching. We never found out how the characters reacted when they found out Thornton was dead – really dead, not just missing. We never saw them give up on their dreams. We just know that it happened.

      Of course, this brings up a point that is particularly important in Thornton’s story – that we don’t get to see every story played out, that our own stories will always be incomplete. But I struggle to connect it to the play as a whole. I liked what you said about always being with somebody, as it eases the idea of incompletion. It’s also kind of sad, though. If you can only watch and never talk, never interact – it’s just a different kind of incomplete, really.

  12. As a new student in the “Theater of Politics” class, I had the opportunity to see “Our Suburb” which was an accurate portrayal of suburban postwar America. The portrayal of the grandmother, Mrs. Weinstein was very similar to my experience with my Jewish Great-Grandmother. Both were incredibly concerned that their grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) were eating enough, but became incredibly riled when the topic of World War II and Nazi Germany was brought up. She too would gave acted in total disbelief that the Nazis would have the “Chutzpah” to march in an area with such a large Jewish population and home to so many Halocaust survivors. The neighborhood dynamic in which my parents were raised was not different from that of the Major’s and Edelman’s. They grew up in Southfield,Michigan in the mid 1970s and the neighborhood was becoming more diverse, and Jewish and non-Jewish communities had more interaction than previously. This led eventually to intermarriage , which made older generations such as Mrs. Weinstein uncomfortable. My experience at family introductions were very similar: traditional Jewish food: “pass the Kishkeh” or in the case of my Great-Grandmother, “would you like some more Mondelbreight” was always a centerpiece of the event. Additionally, “Our Suburb” also serves as a valid social commentary on racial relations in the 1970s. Mrs. Weinstein exhibited the typical attitude of older, white Americans in her interactions with LC, an African -American who delivered eggs to her home that she shared with her daughter’s family. She would always tell her daughter to “check the eggs” and call LC a “schvartza” portraying her distrust of African-Americans. Finally, as a student in High School, I vividly recall talking to a family friend who was a Halocaust survivor about the Nazis attempt to march in Skokie,IL and how angry she felt that the Nazis would choose to march in a place home to so many Halocaust survivors. In contrast, when I spoke to my parents about their viewpoint on the Nazis being able to march in Skokie, they felt that although the Nazis committed unspeakable atrocities against the Jewish community and others during World War II; the first amendment gave them the right to speak their views, no matter how hateful they were. This dynamic similarly parallels that of Mrs. Weinstein and Mrs. Edelman, where Mrs. Weinstein was incredibly angry that the Nazis would choose to march in Skokie but Mrs. Edelman was more rational and understood that all groups maintain the basic right to free expression.

  13. Caroline Schuitema

    Like everyone else in the world, when I go to the theater I expect certain things. Sets. Props. There will be a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The characters will speak to each other on stage. Through these interactions, they will grow and learn. The audience might also learn something. They might laugh, they might cry. They might get bored and leave halfway through.

    So when I went to Our Suburb, I was armed with those expectations. And at first, when the play failed to meet them, I was cynical. Oh, you’re breaking the fourth wall? That’s original. I didn’t particularly want to be surprised – maybe I didn’t think that a play about such a humdrum thing could surprise me. Again, cynical. A suburb! How exciting.

    Looking back, I think that that was a really interesting way to draw me in to the play. Kind of drawing me in by not drawing me in, if that makes sense – so when actually surprising things happened, like the Nazi march or Thornton’s death, I was as surprised as the characters on the stage were. (Well, to be fair, the program did warn me about the Nazi thing, but it was surprising in the context of the story.)

    And then, slowly but surely, Cloud’s subversion of my expectations became more impressive. Subtler. I kept on waiting for a fallout between the Major and Edelman families – a Romeo-and-Juliet type love story, as one person in the post-show discussion panel said – but it never came. Similarly, a resolution to Thornton’s character growth never came. She went from overachieving to unsatisfied to – dead? What? Where did that come from? And more importantly, where does it leave us?

    I don’t have an answer to that question. Which, I think, is why Our Suburb left me feeling vaguely unsettled.

    Over and over again, the older characters on the stage praised Skokie for its safety. And over and over again, the younger characters decried it for the same thing. But everyone took for granted that Skokie was a safe place. I really admired how Darrah Cloud mirrored a narrative point – that our expectations, good or bad, may not always be the case – with a structural one. My own (good and bad) expectations as a playgoer certainly were not always the case, and I think that is what will make Our Suburb a memorable experience for me.

    • I find it interesting that you noted Our Suburb left you feeling “unsettled,” as I agree I also left the play not unsatisfied or uncertain, but definitely unsettled. Darrah Cloud mentioned that she plans to go back and revise Our Suburb, but I do not think that the conclusion will be undergo any changes. I believe it may be Ms. Cloud’s purpose to leave the viewers departing and unsettled in a thought provoking, insightful, and introspective state. Perhaps that is what the initial banality of the play intends for – to set the viewer up to even further experience the shock and alarm that accompanies the death of Thornton and unsettling conclusion of the play. A line that accompanies this notion may be the Stage Managers commentary, “The First Act was about Daily Life. The Second is about Love and College. Try and guess what the Third Act is about.” Given the context of the first two acts, the viewer certainly wouldn’t imagine the third would be about an adolescent death, unaccomplished dreams and disappointing failures.

  14. After watching Our Suburb, it was clear to me that Darrah Cloud was working with several social and political concepts, all of which seemed to cross paths. These concepts—such as civil rights and utopia—all seemed to revolve around the ‘movement’ of freedom in the plot. What I mean by ‘movement’ can be understood through an examination of the characters.

    This is most clearly revealed through Thorton’s death. Her character is defined early and often by how desperate she wishes to leave her small hometown of Skokie and find her perfect life. She has nothing good to say about Skokie until the very end, when she’s recalling all the components of suburban life which she took for granted. Before this, Thorton had the freedom of life and she considered her utopia far from suburbia. Upon her death, however, she realizes that her utopia may have been around her all along. It is this removal of her freedom to live that shatters her previous mindset altogether.

    The transfer of freedom is more palpable through Mrs. Witcoff. Mrs. Witcoff sees Skokie as a place of refuge that her family sought following WWII. Her feelings of safety are altered when the Nazis come into town. As she bickers with Mrs. Edelman over the First Amendment, it is evident that a transfer is occurring: as the freedom of speech is granted to the Nazis, the freedom of security is removed from Mrs. Witcoff. This provides an interesting insight on how perspective can decide whether something is liberating or imprisoning.

    Other characters exemplify this notion as well. Mr. Major greatly restricts freedom to his wife, which comes to define her existence in the play. Not only does he discourage her completely from entering the business world, but he also discourages his daughter to invest in college, which is all that his wife wanted for her. These exchanges and transfers of freedom are prominent in this play, as they determine both the characters in the play and the concepts being discussed.

    • Alex, you present very interesting points on the social and political aspects of Darrah Cloud’s play, “Our Suburb”. Watching the play, I couldn’t help but think back to childhood conversations about the First Amendment and how my father would say,” You have Freedom of Speech, but you are responsible for what you say.” This relates to the Nazis attempt to march in Skokie, as they were eventually granted the right to march even though their ideals were both hateful and inciting of violence. At the end of the play, it appeared that the Nazis did not want to face the backlash of having a march in Skokie- as they chose to cancel their march.

    • Especially with the play’s emphasis on the First Amendment, freedom plays a significant role in the life of each of the characters. You make an interesting point by extending the role of freedom beyond speech, press, and assembly to personal freedoms, such as Thornton’s freedom to choose the direction of her future and Mrs. Major’s confinement, imposed by her controlling husband. Although these are keen observations, I am more interested in what the loss of freedom signifies, whether these transitions simply reflect the shortcomings of an imperfect suburbia, or whether they imply something greater, such as the shifts of power among the characters.
      A relevant comment you make is the importance of Thornton’s death, and the idea that the loss of life is the most tragic loss of freedom that could happen to a person. It is ironic that Thornton fails to appreciate her life in Skokie until it is too late. However, Thornton dies before she must make her decision whether to stay in Skokie with Ricky or to leave home for college, raising the question of whether Thornton had any freedom in the first place.

  15. Joe Grathwohl

    After having seen Darrah Cloud’s Our Suburb, I’m interested in the role of transportation in the play. While only one scene actually takes place mid-transportation, cars and busses are what – I truly apologize for the pun, I can’t help myself – move the play. Ricky and Thornton’s relationship begins on a bus, Thornton’s father spends much of the day (though we don’t see it) driving to work, and of course Thornton’s life ends on a bus. Even the character of L.C.’s life revolves around transportation, as he drives from house to house. We also see transportation at the end of the play when Thornton travels through time to the future.

    It makes sense that transportation would play an important role in Our Suburb, given transportation’s important role in the creation of the post-war American suburb. Before automobiles and mass public transport, suburbs couldn’t exist. Transportation made places like Skokie into the suburb we see in Our Suburb, and while transportation is what made Skokie grow, it is also very destructive.

    I like the way that Darrah Cloud uses transportation in the play. I like how only one scene takes place mid-transport, and it’s a happy scene. We don’t see Thornton’s death, which occurs on a bus, and we don’t see Mr. Major as he commutes into work (which, you could argue, destroys his family), and yet these are very important scenes. Instead we only see scenes in both families’ houses and in Big Herm’s shop. It’s almost as if Cloud is telling us from the beginning that there is no chance for anyone to leave. Thornton will never be able to go far away, and Ricky will never be able to get away from running the shop. Any attempt to use transportation to leave only brings death and destruction. Cloud shows us that while mass transport has brought these families to Skokie, it cannot help them escape.

    • I also noticed the impact of travel in Our Suburb. I first noticed it when Mr. Major spoke of his traveling as well as his daily commute to work. It seemed to be a means of separation that distanced him between himself and his family. Every day, day after day, week after week, when you add these hours up over time, it’s no wonder that the family was crumbling. The presence of this key member of the familial unit was missing in many scenes.
      In addition, it was interesting that Thornton’s death occurred on a bus. I am not clear as to whether this death occurred on a bus in Skokie or in a different part of town. If it was a bus route in a nearby area of Chicago, one could argue that Skokie is a safe haven for its people because it is once Thornton ventures outside of the Skokie bubble, that she encounters danger.
      If the death occurred on a bus inside Skokie, this could be symbolic of a lot of things. I think perhaps the main possibility is that while suburbs tend to be depicted as safe cocoons where nothing happens, no place is immune to evil.

  16. Simply put, “Our Suburb,” by playwright Darrah Cloud, surprised me. The play, drawing from Thronton Wilder’s “Our Town,” made a connection with me. I did not directly sense a strong connection to the play at first. However, as it progressed the characters and their lives started to hit home. Through the progressing plot and thoughtful, poignant one-liners, “Our Suburb” made a connection with me. Some of the interactions and arguments between certain characters forced me to see myself and my own relationships through their words and actions.
    In the beginning, I related with “Our Suburb” on a very basic level. I lived in a suburb for all of my childhood, even though the Skokie portrayed in the play is much different from where I grew up. However, there were many similarities between the two. As the play progressed, I made connections between the characters, their aspirations, and their struggles to people I grew up with and their own aspirations and struggles. For myself, I noticed how Thornton was me in high school. All I wanted was to get out and truly experience something, as did much of my other friends and classmates.
    As the play went on, the more surprisingly emotional I was. I saw arguments acted out that I have had in my own life with various people. Making this certain connection, the play made me reflect on how I was affecting or had affected other people in my life. That maybe my goals or my attitudes were negatively or positively affecting those around me.
    “Our Suburb” is a commentary on typical suburban life, but also on freedoms and history. The play subtly remarks on important historical movements and events such as World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and the women’s rights movement. “Our Suburb” mixes these commentaries well through the distinct characters, their motives, and their stories. The wide variety of characters and storylines in the play allow it to easily make a deep connection with the audience.

    • Like Edward and Thorton, I too desired to leave my comfort zone and go to an entirely new place after high school. However, when push came to shove I found myself going to the University of Michigan with a large number of my classmates and students from my hometown. Looking back on this decision, I couldn’t be happier and I realize that while each of us may not be able to fully escape his or her hometown, we each have unique experiences in our hometowns that can create a diverse community. This is evident by the various experiences of the families seen in Our Suburb. I too connected with the characters and I think that the intensity of their stories and relationships, both with other characters and the Nazis marching through Skoki, was the best part of the play.

  17. Bridget Galassini

    The theme of gender roles was the most interesting part of the play to me. In the 1970s, the U.S. was still experiencing effects of second-wave feminism, with women still not being seen as equal to men. Mrs. Major stays home, even though she has received a Masters in English from Northwestern University. When she proposes getting a job in sales, Mr. Major criticizes her because he says that she doesn’t realize how hard it is to be in the sales business, and implicit is the fact that he doesn’t believe that she could do it. She is disappointed by this response, and goes back to her refuge of drinking and smoking.
    In contrast, Mrs. Edelman is pursuing a law degree, and this empowers her to the point of achieving independence and forming her own views. For example, she has studied the Constitution to the point where she can form an impartial view about the Nazis marching in Skokie, which is consistent with the law, although not consistent with the emotions and past of her family, like Mrs. Witcoff.
    In both families, the fathers are constantly out of the house working, and they are the providers of the family, the breadwinners. This is what is expected in society at that time. When Ricky explains to his dad that he may not want to take over the meat shop, and that Thornton could
    Be the breadwinner in the family, Mr. Edelman tells him not to do this because it would emasculate him. This would be going against the societal norms regarding gender, and that isn’t acceptable to his family.
    Further, Thornton was willing to postpone going to college in order to be with Ricky. Thornton has such great dreams and aspirations – lawyer, doctor, writer – yet she was willing to postpone her education for a boy. This shows that it was expected that women sacrifice their dreams for men, not the other way around. However, Mrs. Major knows how detrimental this would be for Thornton, because she has lived through the effects of being a submissive woman, and that is why she is so angry at the prospect of Thornton postponing college. On the other hand, Mr. Major does not have a problem with it, saying that they actually may not be able to afford many colleges anyway, further showing the gender norms of the time.
    Over all, Mrs. Edelman and Mrs. Major are foils, and at this point in time, society was still in the process of accepting women in roles more similar to what Mrs. Edelman embodied, and less similar to what Mrs. Major embodied. Thornton was in the middle of these two when deciding whether to go to college or not.

    • Uriel "Uri" Lopez

      Bridget, I totally agree with you on these points. What I found most compelling was your conversation on Thornton and giving up her dreams. Just a little curious — do you (personally) think expectations have changed much? It is crucial how the director juxtaposes two women from very different backgrounds, in one place, with different standards and dreams/aspirations. Completely agree with you that the play must be placed in the particular historical context and gender norms of the time.