OUR TOWN at Ford’s Theatre Offers Sneak Peek For New Offering at Theater J

A bold new production of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN has opened at Ford’s Theatre, directed by Stephen Rayne who did such a magnificent job last season directing the Theater J/Ford’s Theatre co-production of PARADE. The new staging brings back some of the cast members of PARADE and reunites Rayne with scene designer Tony Cisek, who does so many brilliant sets for so many companies around town, including us. Now you wouldn’t think there’s much design at play in this production of OUR TOWN. What there is, for a good long while, is very little set.


Oh, there’s the cantilevered, radically-raked stage, swooping down from back-to-front at most-likely the maximum allowable gradation. And there are the 40+ identical white chairs. Now these are chairs one mostly expects to find in Act III of the play, in the simple (though devastating) cemetery scene, and here they are in this production, more chairs than needed laid out in rows for Act I. Clearly, this production team has a surprise up its sleeves for Act III. And, boy, do it ever! I’ll let the students explain. Suffice to say that between Acts I and II I didn’t see a curtain descend to mask any scene changes. Between Acts II and III while I was out getting a drink of water, a black screen was quietly dropped. And when it was lifted to start Act III, a totally startling, brilliant pay-off was in place. That, my friends, is the definition of a “coup de théâtre” (or a “sensational bit of stagecraft!) and a brilliant realization of the truly magical, stark, haunting specter that is the cemetery scene in Act III.

I look forward to reading what others had to say about OUR TOWN, whether it be their first time seeing it, or, like actress Kim Schraf (a frequent Theater J performer and cast member of OUR TOWN who so graciously spoke to our group on Thursday night, together with PARADE cast member Kevin McCallister) someone who’s seen (and been in) the play multiple times. Never have we seen a physicalization of this play in the way Rayne and Cisek allowed us to experience it.

But this Ford’s production is certainly not the first racially integrated version of the play. Our own Delia Taylor and her mother Deborah staged a similarly conceived, non-traditional version at The Theatre Lab. And then there’s this version of the play performed by young students in Compton, LA — do check out this incredibly video documentation; OT: Our Town is a documentary which looks at Dominguez High School’s brave experiment and the people who struggled to make it happen.

A radically new visioning of OUR TOWN is also on our minds as we introduce to you the first glimpse of what we’re looking to produce at Theater J next season: The world premiere staging of Darrah Cloud’s reimagining of Wilder’s classic, moved from Grover’s Corner, NH to Skokie, Illinois. The play is called OUR SUBURB. It’s an homage to OUR TOWN (there have been many over the years, but never has there been one to conjoin the Chicago suburbs, serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Holocaust survivors, the Nazis threatened march through Skokie in 1977, amid all the hijinks and angst of senior year at Niles East — or is it New Trier West? — I’m forgetting). Anyway, with the playwright’s permission, I’ve given our Theater J student subscribers an insider peek at Darrah Could’s play, and we’ll be getting some feedback on the adaptation in comments here as well. It’s interesting to go from Ibsen’s AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE and examining the adapters’ strategies in the two different versions we’ve now read and experienced in BOGED (TRAITOR) and Arthur Miller’s version, and to now see how Darrah Cloud pays homage and also departs from the Wilder. Will be interesting to continue contemplating the value of such updating of timeless classics — choosing, as many a playwright has done before, to rewrite a masterpiece to make it speak in new ways to a new situation. Why, if a masterpiece is indeed “timeless,” does it make any sense to transplant and transpose and give new language and new character names and actions to already-durable prototypes? What’s the case to be made for a radical update like BOGED or SUBURB? And are the updates “radical” enough? What if a transposition is more subtle and gentle? I’ve had experience with that — see THE SEAGULL ON 16TH STREET! and click through a bunch of different links to see differing reactions to an adaptation that may not have gone far enough… or did it go too far?

Veronica Del Cerro and Alexander Strain as Nina and Treplev (photo by Stan Barouh)

Veronica Del Cerro and Alexander Strain as Nina and Treplev (photo by Stan Barouh)

Anyway, a salute to all the great artists at Ford’s who brought Wilder’s enduring masterpiece to life!


42 thoughts on “OUR TOWN at Ford’s Theatre Offers Sneak Peek For New Offering at Theater J

  1. During the first two acts of Our Town, I have to admit that I wasn’t paying the production my full attention. I was following the storyline; laughing at the appropriate times; and growing fond of the characters, but I also had other thoughts floating through my mind. Did I do a thorough job on that memo for my boss? Are there any San Francisco bars in DC that will be welcoming to a 49ers fan this Sunday? How much would a flight cost to go somewhere warm? I knew it was important to try to immerse myself fully in the moment, but it was just impossible for me to keep away those unnecessary distractions.

    Then came Act III, and my focus settled completely on the show. The hanging chairs had a chilling effect, making me literally feel as if the theater had gotten several degrees colder. There was just something so eerie about the suspended chairs rocking slowly back and forth. It made me think immediately of a body hanging from a noose. The lighting added to this eeriness because while it was extremely bright it had no warmth. The brightness created shadows under each of the chairs that looked like a ghostly imprint of the soul each chair represented.

    What really stuck with me though was Emily’s development in that scene. The setting pulled me into the scene — pushing out all of the thoughts superfluous dancing around inside my head — and allowed me to fully and completely connect with Emily’s posthumous message. When she forcefully yells at the audience that the living are blind, I immediately regretted my lack of focus during the first two acts. Just as Emily hadn’t fully appreciated life, I hadn’t fully appreciated the first two acts of the play, and now it was too late. Emily’s forceful final words gave importance to the seemingly mundane details of the earlier scenes. What had seemed at the time like the average characteristics of a fictitious town actually had significance and depth. “Our Town” really could have been about my town and my life, but it took the final act to make me realize it.

  2. Our Town was quite the play. I’ve got to say, I never saw that depressing third act coming. Thankfully it did come, though, because it really demonstrated why this play is so acclaimed. The production we saw, which was at Ford’s Theater, was great. It seemed to me that as the play went on, the acting just got better and better, and the script got all the more gut wrenching.

    The second act was hilarious, and the actor who played George Gibbs really stole the show with some impressive physical humor and excellent comedic timing. The great line of the second act came from George as well, when he says, “I think that once you’ve found a person that you’re very fond of… I mean a person who’s fond of you, too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character… Well, I think that’s just as important as college is, and even more so.” What a great perspective that shows. It took me a while to realize this, but what’s the point of living life – going to college, making six figures, driving a sports car – if you’ll just be lonely the whole time? Clearly, this realization hits George at that moment as well.

    I want to write most of this post on the third act, though. As soon as the curtain rose up, the audience was in awe, what with the floating chairs and all. The whole act reminded me (and yes, Brandon Shaw, I know it’s your job to draw analogies from Springsteen songs but I just had to do it myself this time) of a great Bruce song called “We Are Alive.” Listen to it as soon as possible and you’ll see the parallels as well.

    To me, the whole theme of the third act was: stop and smell the roses. This is something I try to do often; yet, almost every night, when I hop in bed and get ready to fall asleep, I look back on the day and realize that I let it all slip through my fingers. I didn’t stop and smell the roses (and those of you who know I can’t smell, please refrain from laughing just this time so I can use the phrase effectively). I didn’t call my grandma. I didn’t tell me mom I loved her. I watched a stupid reality show instead of reading an inspiring short story. So often I lay in bed and I realize that I failed to remember that life is fleeting – we’ll be on our deathbeds faster than we want to admit. It’s a morbid thought, but it’s also an energizing and inspiring one to say the least.

    When Our Town ended, I not only had the same depressing thoughts running through my head that Emily voiced at the end of the play, but I also felt galvanized to embrace life as fully as possible. When a play, movie, or book induces such powerful emotions, you know it was good. Emily asks, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it?” Well, Emily, no they don’t. It’s impossible, and it takes too much energy to do that. But we can all try a little harder, and that’s something I’ll strive to do thanks to Our Town.

    • SB – funny, I specifically left out a Springsteen reference this week because I had a nightmare in which I was being told I got a B for the blogging section of this class because I ‘over-quoted Bruce Springsteen and did not learn what variety meant.” But you bring up solid points — of course the notes you make are tangentially, but directly, related to each other: it is vital that the hilarity matches the deathly seriousness and all=-too=-real nature of the play just as it is that we accept each other for you we are — all things being equal; we will all die, so the increasingly vital nature of life cannot be overstated.

    • I agree that ‘Our Town’ really makes you stop and think about whether you are fully taking advantage about all of the wonderful moments in your life. The play’s utter simplicity is so moving. It will be interesting to see Theater J’s production of ‘Our Suburb’ and see if the added complexities that are apparent from the script are able to achieve the same affect in a different way. ‘Our Suburb’ seems to be a semi-dystopian play that focuses on the small tragedies of our existence, and I would argue that ‘Our Town’ does the opposite. Neither way is inherently more moving or more effective, but it will definitely be intriguing to compare the two methods of imparting a message about life’s essential meaning. The contrast in set will also be worth noting, I think, seeing as the style of ‘Our Town’ is very turn of the century and ‘Our Suburb’ is a contemporary work placed in Evanston, on the outskirts of the Chicago metropolis.

  3. Wilder’s play, “Our Town,” was, for me, an honor to see, particularly in this venue and time, and at this stature of life – a critical, if not pivotal turning point to the enterprise we call adult development. For the first time in many weeks, I actually shut my mouth for the three-act course of this play, and for a decent period afterwards. It made me think, it made me feel, and it made me more contemplative than I was for the opening half of this past week, and that’s saying something.

    As we head into a semester where we work too much, study too little, and find the harmonious balance between work, class, and life a difficult one to muster, it is plays like “Our Town” that put it all into perspective – showing us the precious gift of life. To visit the show in a somewhat backwards order, I would first note that the final act, in a cemetery, reminds us the gift of time, the preciousness of life, and the intangible gifts we all possess if we seek them.

    The narration from the Stage Manager made me understand what was going on in a way no other type of narration could have; in my opinion this was one of the strongest assets to the plays perception from myself and my peers. In this final scene, ‘Death and Eternity,” for example, the funeral scene concludes and Emily emerges to join the dead. It is then that Mrs. Gibbs tells her that they must wait and forget the life that came before, but Emily refuses. It is this refusal that signifies a refusal to accept certain practical, realistic tendencies in life that struck the boldest chord within me. We love to go for the one-liner, we love to write the cutest class blog, and we love to engage in 90 minute dialogues on how our Professor was harsh in a public forum – but really, I’m the first to admit that as the characters learned, life is about far more.

    Going to the middle and Second Act of the play, “Love and Marriage,” once again arriving in my life at a pivotal turning point, George and Emily prepare for their wedding. The day is filled with stress, and George pays an awkward visit with his soon-to-be in-laws. However, the narrator interrupts the scene and takes the audience back a year, to the end of Emily and George’s junior year. Emily confronts George about his pride, and over an ice cream soda, they discuss the future and their love for each other. George resolves not to go to college, as he had planned, but to work and eventually take over his uncle’s farm. The wedding follows where George, in a fit of nervousness, tells his mother that he is not ready to get married.

    It is this confrontation of the harsher realities of life that struck the starkest undercurrent throughout the course of the three-act play, and that resonated strongly within me.

    The first act ties the three together: Aptly titled, “Daily Life,” according to the script, we see the common things we know all too well – marriage, love, confusion, school, small town America, apathy, sympathy, people searching for their place to belong, and hearts searching for solace, but not knowing where to start this quest.

    I sat there, struggling to take notes on my legal pad, knowing I’d have to submit a blog, and couldn’t write a thing. It is from this first act straight through to the ‘cemetery scene,’ the third act, that we are reminded time and again that only through good company can we learn who we are; it is here that we learn that that company is endlessly difficult to find and keep close, and it is hear that we learn that the harsher realities of life are perhaps the most pertinent to a deep and intrinsic understanding of ourselves – one which many, including me, continue to strive to find each and every day.

    I’m beyond grateful we saw this with the class, and particularly right now
    in life.

    • B Shaw–
      I could not agree with you more. I had the exact same sentiments as you toward this play. I myself struggled to take notes because I was afraid that I would miss something important. I was completely captivated by what was happening onstage and the show just seemed to blow by. I really appreciate how you worked the Acts backward; it offers an interesting take on the events that took place. The third Act kind of brought everything all together, and I enjoyed reading the details you connected throughout the play.

      With you seemingly having the same ideas as me…it makes me wonder what Theater J could possibly do to make this into “Our Suburb.” I don’t think the message will be lost and I’m actually interested in seeing an even more modern take on Our Town. It would be extremely relevant to people of our time and I think that the message of truly valuing life would ring home just as strong.

  4. It was my first time seeing Thorton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’, and I wish someone would have seriously told me before to bring some tissues. Not having tissues was my only complaint, however. I thought the play was just as moving and original as I’m sure it was when it first opened so long ago. I think a lot of authors and playwrights dream of being able to capture the entire complex idea of what it means to be alive, and I think that Wilder was able to do so, as remarkable as that is. It was also striking to me how essentially American this play was—the underlying issues of multiculturalism, religion, family, and rural/urban dynamics, although they could pertain to nearly any nation, seemed uniquely suited to the American experience.

    I think the set of the stage (please excuse my ignorance of the correct terms) was key in imparting the message of the play. I realize that not all productions of the same play have the same scenery, but the whitewashed chairs and tilted stage emphasized the simplicity of the storyline and the raw emotions the actors unassumingly inspired in the audience. The tilt of the stage made the play seem much more open to the audience, as if the events were spilling onto the front row’s lap.

    In my opinion, the whole play was masterfully written, with the narrator’s unpretentious transitions creating a comprehensive whole, but the third act was by far the most impressive part of the show. When the curtain went up, and the lifted chairs were revealed, it was honestly an overwhelming sight. It was so easy to imagine a lonely hilltop, buffeted by winds underneath a starry sky. The passive dialogue of the dead characters was very moving, and I thought the moment when the voices overlaid each other in a chorus of indistinguishable, insignificant remarks masterfully portrayed the distance between the living and the dead.

    • Karinne, I had almost forgotten about the passive dialogue among the dead in the third act—that was really chilling. Thank you for reminding me about it. I agree that the third act was the most impressive. I would be really curious to see other productions to compare them. I’m not sure if all productions have the same simplistic sets and costumes. Reading the description of “Our Suburb” it seems they are going to keep things simple as well, but with a little bit more—I know a table and some scaffolding were mentioned. It was my first time seeing “Our Town” as well and I hadn’t thought much about it afterwards, but the show is quite American but at the same time could be translated and applied globally.

  5. Overall, I really enjoyed the play Our Town. I think the meta-theatrical presence of Portia made the play Our Town so much more interesting. Not only did she assist to keep a large cast of characters, but also took the audience on a journey about a story of humankind. Our Town carried a much deeper meaning than just merely a display of the usual Main Street gossip and the interactions of the characters.

    I really liked the structure of the play as it showcased the normality of life in a close-knit community. For me, Act I was sort of confusing because I was still figuring the role of the different characters and how the town was run. Act II was pleasant to watch as I witnessed George and Emily progress to their marriage. I felt that Act III really brought the flavor out and successfully captured the meaning of life.

    I was evoked in a few of scenes where the characters created an array of warm feeling: George Gibbs and his sister Rebecca looking at the moon while clinging onto the ladder; George and Emily enjoying the ice cream soda together; and lastly, I was particularly sentimental when Emily died in childbirth. Her reflection was very thought provoking, as she realized that she had missed out quite a lot in her life, and she asked a good question: “do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” It made me feel that, often times, we are so focused on a particular aspect of our individual lives that we take a lot things for granted, and we also forget to take a look around us. Just as Katherine and Sam reflected in their posts, it is quite easy to forget to appreciate life, and we should keep reminding ourselves that we should treasure the people around us and treat people with our heart.

    • Similar to what you mention in your post Julian, I was a bit confused as to what the play was about during the first act. I was wondering when the plot was going to develop into a “real” storyline and a lot of action and/or drama was going to happen.

      After watching the play in its entirety, I realize that the main point of the play may have been looking at all of the small moments that make up the town and getting lessons from these everyday moments. It is from these normal experiences from the characters that the audience can learn the most. Simplifying the play may have been an artistic, intentional move to force the audience to engage with this simplicity and look beyond the outward plainness in order to notice the actual complexities that have been a part of life for hundreds of years.

      Now I am curious to look at other renditions of this play to see how other theaters act it out—with props or without? And how much multiculturalism is present in the play? When I was in high school, the drama program put on Our Town but I did not go see it, which I now regret. I would love to see this play again put on by a different theater!

    • I am a bit late to the show in commenting (hope everyone enjoys the bad pun) but I wanted to add on to Julian’s comment and Bri’An’s reply. I whole-heartedly agree that I was confused throughout the first two acts, but I know I would take a lot more from the play if I were to see it again. Now knowing the message Wilder wanted to express, I feel like I will be able to pick up on the intricacies more.

      I also want to emphasize Bri’An’s point regarding the small moments in life. Looking back at the moment when George and his sister are looking at the moon and even when all the townspeople are just enjoying the sun coming up really connected with me. It makes one reflect on the simplicities of life and forget those complexities that way down our appreciation of life. But I do wonder if, throughout the play, the characters always didn’t look at each other directly in the eyes? Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought the actors did a good job of conveying relationships without actually appreciating each other –conveyed through looking into each other’s eyes (just like when Mr. Stimson comes stumbling down the street and stares at the constable but the constable turns away and directs Mr. Stimson home). This could be my imagination, but I felt that the characters never directly stared at each other throughout the whole play (even when George and his father have a little heart to heart about George not helping his mother; it seems odd that a father would not look directly into his own son’s eyes in such a deep moment). At first I thought this was for theatrical purposes, but now I realize it could be more.

      • I cannot agree more with Bri’An and BJ’s in regards of the reference of the small moments in the play. I think the play was successful in defining simple moments such as enjoying the sunrise and gazing at the moon, and I think they serve to teach us to live in the moment and enjoy the beautiful things around us.

  6. I still cannot stop thinking about Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town”. This play was honestly a huge reality check for me. When I was reading the Washington Post’s preview for the play I just knew that this was going to be wonderful. And not to mention, seeing the play at Ford’s Theatre only topped off the experience.

    Like many as the others have already mentioned, the play kept picking up act by act. To be honest, at the beginning of the first act when the stage manager was explaining the town and the family relations it was a LOT to take in. I had never seen the play or read the script so I had no previous experience. I had a hard time trying to keep all the information straight because it was quite a bit of detail at once.

    As soon as the scenes started taking place and we got to watch a day in the life of the members of the town I was relieved because it was much easier to follow along. From there, though, I absolutely loved the stage manager’s narrations. She was sassy and comical and I loved having that light mood throughout the play.

    I think the reason this play was such a reality check after the third act was because in reflection, the first two acts were so “normal” and the third act was anything from normal. The idea of falling in love with a childhood neighbor and growing up to marry them is a not a far fetched concept–something that could happen any of us–so to see it end in a tragic death was very difficult to imagine. I think something that the viewer has to keep in mind is that people often died young back in the early 1900’s, whereas now you never hear of a women dying in childbirth. That was what hit me about this play though–the lives of these people in act I and II seemed like they could be happening in current day (with the exception of the milk man, value of a dollar, lack of cars, etc)–yet all of the death we learn about in act III is uncommon nowadays.

    I said all the death was uncommon, but not impossible. And THAT realization is what really shook me. We just never know how much time we have here on Earth, so we better appreciate every minute. As soon as I left the show I texted both of my parents just to say that I love them.

    Our Town was absolutely wonderful. Any play that makes the audience think so much afterwards can really applaud themselves for a job well done. The production was so different than any other play, and really left the audience to use their imagination and I really liked that. The two couples, the Gibbs and the Webbs, were perfectly cast. And how neat were the sound effects?! I can’t believe every single noise was made by the cast. I was so surprised to learn that when we got the chance to talk to one of the actors after the show. He also enlightened us that they cast had mime training so that they were able to convey to the crowd without the use of props what their characters were doing. That was something I hadn’t seen before in a play and I really appreciate how much extra effort that probably was.

    Overall, absolutely loved this production of “Our Town”. It is something I hope to see again. I’m sorry if this post was a little bit rambly, it is kinda hard to describe my thought process about this play and how it was a reality check for me. Bottom line: never take a moment for granted and always tell those you love how you feel.

    • Sarah, I think your description of the Stage Manager is spot on. Portia certainly brought a level of sass to the production. Her comedic timing and delivery of her lines was so deliciously satisfying. And her intimacy with the audience made it feel like she was sharing an inside joke with us, sometimes at the expense of the townspeople of Grovers Corner. With just a knowing look to the audience, we could read her thoughts. As the minister in Act II, she clearly communicates how annoyed she is with the guest who “loves weddings” just by raising her eyebrows.

      Her mastery of sass is all the more impressive because she manages to use it in a way that is not abrasive to the audience. The Stage Manager feels like a close friend who is laughing with us rather than at us. This differs from the modern interpretation of the Stage Manager in Darrah Cloud’s OUR SUBURB. In this production the Stage Manager is also sassy, but her delivery seems a bit more jaded and off-putting than Portia’s. When reading the lines from Cloud’s Stage Manager, I felt intimidated by her coolness. Portia’s Stage Manager seemed like someone I could be friends with while this Stage Manager seemed as if she may judge me. It will be interesting to see if her performance is as I interpreted it from the script, and if it is that intimidating I wonder how it will effect the audience’s reception of the production.

  7. I really, really enjoyed Stephen Rayne’s production of Our Town. Many aspects of this production were interesting. For one, I was surprised by how minimalistic this production was. I thought the characters’ simple outfits, all in shades of grey, emphasized the plays main point even more-the idea that life is transient and we should literally cherish every single moment. I thought that the simplicity of the play’s scenery was intriguing as well. I loved how the only props used were the chairs and the ladders that George and Emily stood on when gazing at the moon while doing their homework. After the show, one of the actors informed us that they had a mime instructor come in to their play rehearsals and assist them with techniques and practices daily.

    I thought that Portia, the stage manager, did very well and added humor to the play. However, I was slightly confused on her outfit. She did not at all fit in with the rest of the cast. It was a very unflattering outfit and too casual in my opinion. However, she did a very good job. I’m not sure I fully understood Emily’s character either. She was supposed to be a very intelligent young girl, yet her voice made her sound extremely flaky and spacy. But maybe that was all part of the act. Overall, I thought all of the actors and actresses in this production were very talented.

    What resonated with me the most about this play was Act III. I bawled. I should have listened to the review that suggested the audience bring tissues. I wish I had. This act made me stop and think and appreciate my life and my family so much. After reading the play synopsis, I emailed my mother and father and just expressed how much I love them, how thankful I am for them, and how much I appreciate all they do for me.

    • I agree with your point on how the outfits and the minimalism really emphasize the main theme. Additionally, I think that the simplicity of the costumes underscores one of the intentions of Stephen Rayne’s production- how the story of “Our Town” is applicable to all times and places, also demonstrated through the set that leaves almost everything to one’s imagination and the racially integrated roles. However, I disagree with you slightly on the Stage Manager’s outfit. Regardless of whether it was unflattering and casual or not, the fact that it stands out is not a negative thing. If anything, as a character that is not truly part of the town and often ignores the fourth wall to interact with the audience, it is appropriate that she does not wear a matching outfit.

  8. One of the most compelling features of Stephen Rayne’s production of Thornton Wilde’s “Our Town”, was the play’s use of space. The play manipulated both the physical space of the stage, and the metaphysical space between the actors and the audience, to create a compelling production which captivated the audience from the very beginning, and left their hopes dangling from heart strings like the elevated chairs of the departed at the end.
    The manipulation of physical space in the production was very impressive. At the beginning of the play, the characters are seated on stage in a manner which imitates the seating of the audience watching the play. From the beginning of the production, the message to the audience is clear: “Whoever you are, watching this play, you could be one of these characters on stage, and as a matter of fact you are. This is not our town, this is your town.”
    Whether we identified with the drunk choir director Simon Stimson, or with the housewives Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs.Webb, we were presented with images of our lives which are saddled with both joys and challenges. The play seemed to suggest that those who work hard, and who keep laboring for the good of their town, focusing on the joys that life have to offer, are often the happiest and most successful.
    Yet this is not true for all characters, as by the end of the play, fate and grief were the consequences of many characters’ expectations. For even the joyous life of a young woman was cut short by death in childbirth. And even all of Emily’s efforts at trying to be perfect in school, or George’s decisions to take his responsibilities more seriously, could not thwart their fate as a couple, and even their love had to surrender to the inevitability of time and the unpredictability of life and death.
    Despite their grief however, Emily’s epiphany in the final act of the play offers the audience some hope or careful counsel to withstand the rigors and challenges that life throws our way. Emily’s sorrow at the end for not having realized the importance of loving those around her as honestly and as truly as possible during her life, absorbs all the sorrows and disappointments of the other characters throughout the play. The play’s message is clear: “No sorrow is greater than that which comes from the failure to love, and furthermore from the failure to realize the importance of love when the time was necessary.” This is the cautionary message which “Our Town” gives to us, to appreciate life, both in and out the theatre.

    • Hi Melissa, I totally agree with you of the compelling features of the play. As an audience, even was sitting on the back, I could still feel my engagement with the show as the strong voice that the stage manager had presented to us. The play utilized the horizontal and vertical spaces of the stage, and, as you said, the metaphysical space between actors and the audiences; and I also think, it shortened the time differences by having stage manager clearly demonstrating the details of OUR TOWN. Although it was from a different age, audiences could simply understand it because what the people of OUR TOWN looking forward, are nothing more than a happy simply life. The first two parts were very idealized, but the third part tells us the real significance of having the first two perfect scenes, which is, life is not that simply, not that perfect. As human beings, we have always been living under many of unawareness of the importance of life and love…. The play is way more than I could explain, and I really like your way to express its significance.

  9. Having the opportunity to take in Our Town at the historic Ford Theater was a very meaningful experience, especially in light of the tragic event that took place there. The performance of Our Town came full circle for me when the third and final scene was performed. While I thoroughly enjoyed the acting through the first two scenes, particular the character George Gibbs, I was lost as to the plot or meaning of the play. The play’s true meaning was not revealed to me until the final scene.
    The third scene opens with a chilling image of all the dead members of the town suspended in mid-air. This scene forced me to conger up images of a hanging in my mind. The town’s dead members were all wearing grey while the living members, who had gone through a costume change, were now wearing white, a subtle yet striking change. What rapidly becomes apparent is no one in the small town got to accomplish what he or she wanted to do before they passed away. Mrs. Gibbs never got to take a trip to France, George Gibbs gave up his dream of playing in the big leagues, and Emily Webb died in childbirth. The lasting message of the play is life is short and you must cherish every day.
    A quote from the play that resonated with me came moments before the end of the play. The stage manager says, “All humans are just blind people, acting as if they had thousands of years to live.” The use of the word “blind” is particular powerful. We are blind to the fact most of the problems we face in our lives are nothing more than mere inconveniences. As I rode the Metro back to my apartment, I had time to reflect on the play. What struck me was the significance of the location, the very place were Lincoln was killed, in which such an important message was delivered. We must seize the moment and make the most of our lives and the lives of others, something Lincoln did better than almost anyone else.

  10. In the Ford’s Theater production of “Our Town”, the theme of valuing life seems to be the main theme. When I originally saw this production this past Thursday, I thought the general message of the play was about not enjoying the good things in life. But after further thought, I think the most important message was about the VALUE that life has; a value we are not cognizant of. What I really liked about this play was that the message Thorton Wilder wanted to convey was not revealed until the third act. It really made me go back and reflect on how the first two acts connected, and how it all ties together. However, I do wish it had been clearer earlier on in the play so I could have made note of all the intricacies tied to the theme.
    I felt that many people in the audience truly connected well with this play, including myself. I took down a couple lines from the third act that I felt carried weight and accurately states the point of the play:
    -Emily: “All human beings are just blind people”
    – Mr. Stimson : “That is what it’s like to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance”
    -Emily: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

    STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

    I specifically noted these four lines because they really moved me. It seemed to imply a lot about our life here on earth. When Emily asked to relive those moments in life she truly treasured, Mother Gibbs expressed her disapproval and suggested Emily against this decision. After having seen the play, I understand why. Everyone in the cemetery (with the exception of maybe Mr. Stimson) had really enjoyed their lives while they lived it in the first two acts. But upon reflection, everyone agreed that the lack of noticing the value of life took away from the happiness, the love, and the value each of these events had. Emily at one point screams at her mother to just “look at me!”, but mother Webb does not. This was such a moving point because it made me realize that I never take time to truly look at those I love and treasure the moments we share. It almost made me feel guilty to think about how I have not understood the value of what I had until it was gone. This idea is accentuated greatest in the deaths of my loved ones, but it still applies throughout the events of my life. It seems like Mr. Wilder was right in saying that human beings are truly blind and that we live in a cloud of ignorance. But at the same time, I began pondering the quote by Mahatma Gandhi which goes: “Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts but by his intentions. For God alone reads our hearts”. This made me think if we as humans (though not “superior beings”) still understand the intentions and the meaning behind our actions. Though I may not necessarily take the time to look into the eyes of my loved ones and treasure those moments eternally, I still act and express my intentions because of the subconscious value I hold for all of them and those moments. To clarify, take for example Emily visiting her birthday again. Emily is frustrated that her mother and father don’t take the time to look at her or for any of them to realize the value of what they had. But what made Emily treasure this birthday in particular? I can’t be certain, but it is in my opinion that she chose her 12th birthday because she felt this represented a moment in her life that she treasured and in which she felt loved and happy; is this not in itself something to be valued? This made me think that maybe we as humans don’t know the value of everything we do, but we act and see the intentions of our loved ones and carry this as it’s value; maybe that’s the best we can do.
    I apologize if I was not very clear. I am confused a bit myself because I am trying to purge my guilt in light of past personal events. But overall, I feel that the love, the happiness, and the value of life is derived by our intentions, not from the direct action and time spent on pondering these thoughts together alive.

  11. One question that I kept asking myself throughout the first two acts of this production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was what exactly the play was about. I thought the cover of the program looked a little like the play could be a sitcom, it reminded me of a poster for Modern Family, and the first two acts were pretty funny. The whole situation seemed too perfect to believe; the only problem in the town was that the choir director and organist drank a lot, and Emily and George, two neighbors who have known each other all their lives fall in love and get married. Something had to go wrong, and when Act III started, it was clear that this was a very different play than before, and a look into life in small town America became an exploration of the nature of life itself.

    “Do any human being ever realize life while they live it?” is the question that Emily asks of the Stage Manager who explains that some poets and saints might, but everyone else doesn’t. That question, I decided, was the answer to mine regarding what the play was about. It reminded me of a quote by the Science-Fiction writer Douglas Adams, “Life is wasted on the living.” When you try and look at life and figure out what it is all about, you miss all the little things that are important, and by the time you figure out everything that you overlooked and took for granted, its too late to do anything about it. I had been so focused on trying to guess what was going to happen in the play that I probably missed a lot of little things the actors did that made the performance great. I was like Emily; I only figured out that the details are important and worthy of attention once the play was over.

    One of the things I did notice though was how the simplicity of the stage and the lack of props made the reveal of the final message more profound. Though I did wonder why the stage was slanted, I wasn’t really focusing too much on it during the performance. There was no TV screen background or moving stage like in Boged, there was no Chekov’s gun or other special props. There were only the actors and some chairs, which made it all the easier for the little things to be taken for granted. And while I enjoyed the play very much, I would like to see it again sometime in my life so I can truly enjoy the great acting performances taking place in front of me.

  12. One of the most distinctive aspects of “Our Town” is its lack of conventional character conflicts that normally carry fictional plots. Any minimal disputes that do take place among the characters are almost immediately resolved within the same scene, and any build-up they have is off-screen. George and his father only briefly discuss his lack of responsibility, and by the end of the conversation George has received a raise in his allowance as a sign of his father’s trust in him, and we see none of the year of tension that leads to Emily confronting George about his personality change and the start of their relationship. Even Emily’s emotional outburst towards her mother about how she never looked at them in the third act has little foreshadowing and no consequences- Mrs. Webb cannot see her and immediately after Emily chooses to return to the present. Though the play maintains coherency by following the same people and location, it does not have the clashes between characters that typically drive action forward.

    While there are no overt conflicts between the characters in “Our Town,” there is a larger sense of tension between the cherished hometown, complete with its sense of security, and the world expanding around it. Over the course of the play, Grover’s Corners is “citified,” and the change is portrayed as a negative one. Locks appear on every door as a sign of the mob mentality of distrust and Main Street becomes busier and more dangerous with the increasing number of vehicles.

    Furthermore, none of the characters are willing to separate themselves from the sentimentality of the hometown. Early on it is said that most children end up settling back in Grover’s Corner, and indeed, George gives up his future in baseball and intention of going to agricultural college to remain at the security of home and eventually marry Emily. They struggle to align themselves with tradition and distance themselves from change. Even the dead, who are supposed to forget their existences on Earth and constantly reprimand Emily about wanting to return to the world of the living, are not able to fully wean themselves away off of their attachment to the small town. Simon Stimson is tied to his bitterness from life, reflected in all of his Act III dialogue. They are still bound to their relatives, their town, and those values.

    The stage manager is the only one who is completely disconnected from Grover’s Corners. Even though she occasionally slips into roles within the town, she always maintains a transhistorical viewpoint. Casually, she informs the audiences of different character’s futures and makes references to places all across time, like Babylon, Greece, and Rome, in a way no one else does. She maintains that the most important guests at a wedding are nature and ancestors, and this quality of omnipotence establishes her as the sole character able to successfully adjust to the changing world. As everyone else has pointed out on this blog, a main theme of “Our Town” is recognizing the importance of every moment, and while the other characters seem to acknowledge that, only the stage manager is capable of doing that and keeping everything in perspective.

  13. At that night, I even had a dream about the play…
    ABOUT the FORD’S THEATER I have heard about the Ford’s theater was the place where President Lincoln was assassinated, but I never thought that I could still be able to see the Lincoln Box. Besides, it’s wonderful that they have a historical museum underground about President Lincoln and the assassination. It is a very significant place as it educates people from generation to generation about the history, as well as reminds people of the troubling times this nation had passed through; most importantly, it encourages people to perpetuate the ideas of equality and freedom, the hopes that we always have for this country.

    ABOUT the PLAY Before the play stated, as I was looking at the settings of the play— all chairs— I was wondering how the play was going to be demonstrated. As the Stage Manager—Portia stood in the middle of the stage, everyone became quite. Her tone was so powerful and drew me into the scenes while she was verbally describing the TOWN. I could literally see those scenes in my mind. While she’s demonstrating the scenes, actors and actresses who were sitting in the back were continuing acting.

    The Production and Acting
    What impressed me the most all along the play was the lightening: at the beginning of part one, when Mrs. Gibbs and Webb opened their windows before they made breakfasts, the lights immediately being increased and was shining on their faces. Although it was artificial light sources, it properly served as natural illuminations and fitted very well into the play scenes.

    Another thing that impressed me the most were the sounds that made by actors and actresses themselves. For instance, in part one of the play, when Howie Newsome was dragging the horse, another actor who was sitting in the back, seemed like the one who played Joe Stoddard, was making the sounds of the horse. Also actors and actresses who sat in the back were making the sounds of chickens in Mrs. Gibbs’ house. It made the play very lively and interesting.

    The well-performed play itself wasn’t the biggest surprise to me since the play was so famous and was played in this famous theater as well. The thing really surprised me was that those actors and actresses were not only good at acting but also singing! Their voices were so amazing and I felt like I was sitting in an opera.

    I couldn’t help wondering that how Portia, the stage manager, could remember these much lines. For other actors and actresses, they could memorize lines more easily since they were always in dialogues; but for the stage manager, she always talked without anyone responding to her. And within each play, she never left the stage but sat on the side.

    It was interesting that Mr. Webb used a hilarious way to describe the current political situation at that time. He said: “(In our town) All men vote, women vote, indirectly.”
    The details showed the reality in an extremely precise way. For example, Emily was smart and good at studies, she definitely not that pleased when her mother asked her to do some house work. So when she and her mother sitting together, paring the beans, the actress’s slow actions showed how Emily was not that proficient.

    The play
    Right after the members of Gibbs’ and Webb’s families were introduced, I realized something didn’t make sense in terms of the matching of the skin color of the parents and their children. However, after watching for a while, I figured out that this might be one of the elements that made the play significant. In its way, the play tells its audiences that that is NOT important. The Ford’s Theater is one of the places which have strong connection with President Lincoln, who fought for the elimination of slavery for his entire life. And this play portraits people’s pursuits of happiness and quality life, which is also what President Lincoln stove to protect and for which he and many other forbearers sacrificed themselves for. The equality that those precursors fought for was well-presented in this play. The play doesn’t care about the skin color of the actors or actresses, but just simply portraying the stories of OUR TOWN.

    I believe every single one of us who have seen the play was impressed by the third part. The distinguished setting and the significances it tried to express were all amazing. When the curtain rose, I was a little bit freaked out because both the settings and the lightening made me think that I could clearly see “dead souls” were sitting in the chairs, which were hanged in the air. I was keeping questioned myself if they represented “dead souls” and they were. Actors and actresses, with no facial expressions, incredibly well-defined what “dead souls” are looked like.

    Emily’s words and the actress’s acting made me feel extremely sad because in reality, we are people who are living but many times without noticing how much times we have wasted. We always go after things such as substances, reputations, or money. We are so BUSY in doing our business and have never thought about that someday, these are all unimportant. Mrs. Webb was keeping telling Emily that she doesn’t want her to be so smart but healthy. But Emily didn’t listen. And finally what made Emily lose everything was the sickness.

    The play is powerful. It strongly shakes my heart and let me realize many things besides what I said above. There are no much words for me to describe it, but simply, I want to say, it’s incredible!

    Thank you for reading my comments.

  14. I had never seen “Our Town” by Thorton Wilder before I saw this production at Ford’s Theatre, directed by Paul R. Tetreault. I was slightly confused at first by the character Stage Manager. I thought the woman was someone on the production end simply introducing the play, but was very pleased when I realized she was part of the play because I think the actress, Portia, was one of the best in the ensemble. The other actors did a good job as well and although I don’t particularly like pantomiming, these actors did such a good job I could hardly question it.
    The set design was simplistic but entrancing. Just a stage of white chairs and two ladders, but with the descriptions delivered by the Stage Manager I could clearly see Grover’s Corners. And the plain costumes neither added nor distracted from the performance. Act I and II were both great but the message of the play is driven home in the third act. When the curtain rose after the second intermission the hanging chairs were completely captivating. It was quite eerie and I interpreted the level of the people’s hanging chairs to symbolize how close the individuals were to their human selves and lives. Alyssa Gagarin playing Emily Webb took the third act to an emotional level and much of the audience reacted with tears as she looked at her past life. I must also add that Nickolas Vaughan, playing George Gibbs, also moved the audience during the scene where he mourns at Emily’s grave. Being that emotionally vulnerable on stage must be really challenging and I respect the commitment these actors have to be able to achieve that.
    I was excited to be able to speak with some of the actors after the show. We spoke with Kevin McAllister who played Howie Newsome, Kimberly Schraf who played Mrs. Webb, and Craig Wallace who played Mr. Webb. A fun fact we learned was that all the sounds the audience heard during the production were made by the actors themselves—even the rooster calls. The tracks were prerecorded but made by the actors..

    • Kim and I seem to agree on many aspects of this play. As I stated in my post as well, I found that the simplistic scenery was a very bold move. It was different; I’ve never seen anything like it. However, I think that it allowed the audience to focus in more on the play’s theme. In addition, I found the conversation with the actors after the play to be very interesting, especially the fact that Stephen Rayne wanted all sounds and sound effects in the play to be original. He wanted them all to be by the cast. As McAllister stated, this called for even more auditioning to discover who could make the best “rooster call” for example.

  15. Our Suburb, a modern interpretation of Our Town, evokes many of the same emotions as the performance of Our Town I saw at Ford’s Theater, but cast in a modern light. Our Suburb is set in Skokie, Illinois, as opposed to New Hampshire, and boasts a similar cast of characters. Even some of the smaller details are the same, such as Mrs. Mayors desire to travel to Europe. As I read the play, I was compelled to relate the play to my own life. At one point in the first scene, Thornton says, “It always feels so lonely when d ad goes. We’re what are left after all the fathers go to work. We live our lives while they are gone.” In my life, I have been blessed to have a father who tried to make his time away as short as possible. When I was two years old, my father quite his job at a large law firm to take another job so that he could be there to see us grow up. The fact that I can count the number of games my dad missed me play in on one hand, means more to me than I can even begin to express in words. It’s this kind of love that the play documents. The kind of love we will miss greatly when those loved ones pass on. As the Stage manager says in act three, “If you really examine the strength of the human spirit, it’s hard to believe it just snaps out like a light at the end of a life.”

    • After reading Our Suburb and watching Our Town, I’m not sure how I feel about the more modern adaptation of it. The thing I liked about the town of Grover’s Corner was its simplicity and rustic feelings. Reading about Skokie, though, I see more Dazed and Confused than The Music Man, and I feel like that kind of ruins the story for me. In the original, when Emily asks if people ever really live life, it fits with the setting. But when the Stage Manager in Our Suburb says that “The living carry each one of us on. Life is heaven…” and everybody is partying and getting high, it’s harder to feel sorry for them for missing out on life. I appreciate how the new version resonated more with you, but I just didn’t get the same feeling from it.

    • “Hi Brain, thank you for sharing your personal story here. I am happy for you that you have a really good father. As myself, I was adopted by grandparents until I was 6 because my parents were trying to have a better life for me, well, financially. I don’t blame them at all because they didn’t realize that it may cause some “side-effects” of kids’ childhood by not having them live with their parents. They now know it.! lol.

      Our Suburb”, written by Darrah Cloud and played by Theater J, is a more modernized version of “Our Town”. In terms of the time, both of the plays are also different as “Our Suburb” is set in the mid-1970 while “Our Town” is set in 50 years after the Civil War. The locations are also different as we can easily tell. In the play “Our Town”, the significances of life were defined and evoked by the contrasts of happily “live-lives” and the voices of “dead-lives”; while in “Our Suburb”, the significances were embodied in serious of tragedies, and connect to the modern life in a different way. As far as I’m concerned, it is a more real way. For instance, by reading the lines of the stage manager, I feel she is far more “away” from the audience. Instead of being as a medium between the audiences and actors, like what the stage manager of “Our Town” was presented, the stage manager of “Our suburb” is more like the “third party” who is being apart from the audiences or actors on the stage. However, it would be more interest to see a different style of stage manager because she may lead to another type of story.

  16. As a US history major, I was incredibly excited to see a production at Ford’s Theater this week. Initially I was just struck by how large the stage was, and how well suited the entire space was for modern performances. The actors were moving around among the dozen of white chairs on the sloped stage before the show even started.

    This was my first time seeing any production of Our Town. I was drawn in from the moment it started because of how direct and energetic the Stage Manager was. Her presence and energy (humor, wisdom, etc.) set the pace for the entirety of the play and all the other members of the cast kept it up.

    Like almost everyone else who has posted before me, I thought the third act was stunning. The first two acts reminded me of my own small hometown where almost no one has been to Europe (including my entire family) and nearly everyone my age is already married. The third act hit home hard by reminding me of how temporary our experiences are. I loved how the chairs were floating away from the earth asymmetrically, reminding the audience of how slight our homey hopes and worries become with death. I was tearing up the whole time. It made me question all the emotions that I feel and have felt, from the loss of a loved one, to my anxiety about work. I don’t think Wilder’s point was to make the audience feel our emotions are trite, but to remind us that we should walk around life and be conscious. We are all living, thinking, loving capable human beings. Our Town reminds us to feel the magic of what is truly important in life.

    After the play we were lucky enough to talk with a couple of the actors in the lobby. Kevin McAllister talked briefly about the role of race in the play. That the families were racially mixed (not common in 1901 America) forced the audience to interact with the characters as human beings regardless of skin tone. This utopian-like quality reiterates Wilder’s goal of making the audience reconsider the human experience. The entirety of the play draws attention to the fact that were are all mortal, we all love, and lose and we are all connected to the towns we come from (like it or not).

    This has been one of the best theater-going experiences I’ve had. I’m trying to convince my roommates to go with me to see it again.

    • Austin, that third paragraph you wrote really summed up my whole experience watching Our Town. Even the part about tearing up, but don’t tell anyone. Oh wait, this is a blog, everyone knows. I’m also glad you brought up the race factor in the play. It was interesting to see different races mixed together in a time when races so clearly were not allowed to relate with each other. It was a little strange at first, but I think it made the play all the more effective in the end, because it truly showed that this is a timeless story in a town that could be anywhere in the world. It was also interesting to hear your perspective being from a small town. I’m from Los Angeles, so I didn’t quite have that experience. That’s pretty crazy that most people you know your age are already married. And really? You’re roommates won’t go with you? They must really hate the theater, or you have terrible persuasive skills; either way, I’ll go with you again because it was truly a great experience.

    • Austin this was a beautifully-written and eloquent comment. Not sure if you’ll get my reply given we saw the show three weeks ago, but I’ve been a little (okay, a lot) late to bat. Anyway, the sentence you wrote that most poignantly captured my viewing experience was this one: “I loved how the chairs were floating away from the earth asymmetrically, reminding the audience of how slight our homey hopes and worries become with death”. The connection you draw, between the asymmetrical floating and death putting banality in perspective, was one I definitely felt but didn’t think to express. It showed masterful direction (and art direction) and an emotional conception of a scene that could have been staged much more literally.

      I also thought the arrangement of the asymmetrical chair-graves, with the last-living closer to the ground and the long-dead floating at the top, provided an incredibly moving depiction of life, death, and the (potential) journey that happens after. The fact that the souls who were long-gone had drifted to the top, almost out of consciousness’ bounds, was a striking statement that also provided insight into mortality vs. the minutiae of daily life.

  17. The lack of props and clear definition of the set threw me off when the first act began. I had some trouble visualizing the events going on and had to make an effort to interpret what the characters were doing. I remember being very impressed with Ms. Gibbs and Ms. Webb when they opened the “window” and the spotlight shone on them, because it was easy to imagine that there was actually something there. This method of presentation is different because I actually had to pay close attention and think while the play was going on. It really put into perspective how much I relied on props to give me the context without having to put in much thought. By the second act though, it became much easier to “see” the props and “see” the set. I came to appreciate the freedom to use my imagination. I was surprised by how fast (actual) time flew by while watching the play, even though the time in the act really didn’t move very much!

    I definitely didn’t anticipate Emily’s early death, even though everyone in the audience knew that the third act was about death. I remember thinking that not much would change, because it was only ten years and they’d only be in their twenties. When the curtain came up though, I actually did realize what was going on – that the setting was the cemetery (which was logical, because everyone in a chair wouldn’t be able to move or act, so they’d have to be “dead”), and also that Emily had died. I wanted to talk about the discussion regarding the third act after the play. I hadn’t considered the significance behind the difference in height of the different chairs. I’d thought it was just to make room for lots of people to be sitting and still be visible. I really came to appreciate it afterwards, when someone commented on how the distance of the chair from the floor was symbolic of the individual’s detachment from his or her past life. It was definitely a much, much more interesting way of presenting a cemetery on a hill than any set could possibly have done.

    On the other hand, I think that the scene with Emily’s realization of how she had failed to appreciate life could have been much more effective had it not been a constant stream of upset. For me, it simply filled in way too many gaps and became overly dramatic, as opposed to a transition from loud sobbing and screaming to quiet tears and grief, which I feel would have demonstrated an equal force of emotion. I feel like that transition in mood would have given me a little more realism in how she had changed after going back and seeing how she had missed everything. On the other hand though, it’s also because I forget that Emily’s only in her mid-twenties and she really didn’t get to experience much of life.

  18. With regards to “Our Suburb”, I think it does a better job of more realistically conveying the tension and conflict that is a part of town life. The production of “Our Town” which we saw last Thursday at Ford Theatre, did not really give a genuine presentation of conflict as it occurs between residents in a town. I think that “Our Suburb” attempts to address the more realistic side of fate and of the inevitabilities of human experience by including conflict in its presentation of town life. “Our Suburb” seems to suggets more strongly than “Our Town” that the mere fact that we live in a community with others, makes conflict an inevitable part of our experience; and that although we cannot always control the nature of the conflict, our character and our choices determines its outcome, and can influence the lives of others around us.

  19. I really enjoyed watching the production because I was not completely sure what to expect from this play. Although it did use simple costumes and essentially had no props, the play’s message and the vibrant acting made it an enjoyable experience for me.

    The time period of the play, evidenced by the clothing the characters were wearing, was of a simpler time period so I felt that the artistic choice to not use props fit well with the time period of the production, although this kind of bewildered me in the beginning. I enjoyed watching the play because it reminded me of watching marathons of the show Little House on the Prairie when I was younger and absolutely loving it. One reason that I enjoyed watching this show and subsequently enjoyed watching the play is because the messages were so simple yet so relevant to today. Lessons like not being selfish, sacrifice, and appreciation are all things that I learned from watching Little House. Watching Our Town reminded me to appreciate the routines and things that make up everyday life because these are the things that you will look back on and genuinely miss.

    I was also reminded of the challenges that people from all walks of life confront every day. I think it is easy to assume today that the problems that we deal with in contemporary society are vastly different than those faced by people in different time periods. I was riveted by the second act, in which George and Emily were contemplating marriage and their futures. At one point, George was talking about going to agriculture school, but then said that he was not interested in meeting new people and seeing new places. I perceived some hints of him being scared, and he chose to stay in the small town and marry and start a family and become a farmer without higher education. This is something that I feel like a lot of people from smaller towns, rural areas, or underprivileged areas have to contend with in deciding whether or not to go to school—fear of the unknown likely plays a factor in the decision process regarding this, and I know I have struggled with these feelings in my life. George and Emily also displayed a little bit of anxiety in getting married, which is something that a lot of people who have been married can relate to.

    I liked that there were still a lot of small lessons and things to pay attention to that are still pertinent to today in the play.

  20. I have to admit, I was absolutely blown away by this play. Although my exposure to theater has been very limited, I thought the talent and artistry in Our Town was amazing. I loved every second of it.

    When I first walked into the theater, I did not know what to expect. There was a plain, grayish stage set up, which seemed to be on a downward slant. On the stage were rows of white chairs..and that’s it. Actors slowly started entering the stage and sitting in the chairs. It was a little strange and I didn’t know if the play was starting or not…and then the narrator/stage manager, Portia, came onstage. She set the entire mood of the play and she was the only character dressed in black. I thought she did a wonderful job and she made the story easy to follow and connected everything together.

    My absolute FAVORITE part about this play was the element of multiculturalism. There were so many different races represented and most of the families contained multiple races. It was refreshing and added stimulation, as all of the characters were dressed in monotone colors and there were no colors or props on set. The actors were the only ones on the stage, making a raw and exposed set.

    I think the lack of color and props (besides chairs and ladders) drew my eyes to the emotion of the actors. They moved me with their words and their motions–I was captivated by their performances. My favorite characters were Portia and Mrs. Gibbs. I thought their characters were the strongest and that they often set the tone of the scene and added genuine emotion.

    My favorite act of Our Town was Act 3. It was the most visually stimulating Act and it was also the most emotional. As soon as the curtains drew, you saw chairs hanging from the ceiling at different levels with different characters who had died off throughout the years. It was very symbolic and it made my mind race. This last act brought an element of seriousness into the show and it brought the final message out loud and clear–the importance of life, the importance of living.

    I left the show with a sense of empowerment and a strong yearning for adventure. It hit home with me. It put into plain view and focus how short life is. Our Town showed me how fast things can change and how temporary and fragile our life here on Earth is. It told me to not sweat the small things and to enjoy my time here while I can…and to not look back, and to live without regrets.

    • I like how you pointed out that there was also a lack of color! In retrospect, that definitely did make a difference to how much attention I paid to the actors, because there wasn’t anything distracting that would take away from their actions. It helped me focus more on the motions and the expressions of the actors and actresses. I’d also like to comment on how small the theater space seemed in relation to distance from the stage. I thought it was a great thing because it allowed me to be closer and be able to see the smaller nuances that I might have missed otherwise. I think because I was in such close proximity, I was able to enjoy the play because I had the ability to really watch a lot of small movements unfold.
      I agree that the last act made me stop and think about the day that I’d just had – how much attention had I paid to what was going on around me? I couldn’t recall whether or not I’d actually looked at anything on my walk to work that morning, or if I’d simply rushed down the streets, paying only enough attention not to walk into anything.

    • On a separate note, I think that it would be interesting to watch Our Suburb as it’s very different from this production of Our Town. For one, it looks like there’s going to be a lot more color and a lot more props. The way of speech is also quite different – it’s very, very modern – and I’m really not quite sure what I think of that? I haven’t seen any modern plays before (actually, I’ve never seen plays outside of the two we’ve watched), so it would definitely be an experience! I saw on the syllabus too that we’ll be watching more modern plays, so I look forward to that!

  21. I enjoyed Wilder’s “Our Town” for several reasons. As it was my first time seeing this production, I enjoyed the premise of the story. Grover’s Corner replicated a post Civil War town as the residents moved through life. The play emphasized the stages of life, with the first act beginning with the origins of the town and the birth of twins, the second act dealing primarily with George and Emily falling in love and getting married, and the final act with Emily’s transition and the reflection of life. Like others, I was taken by the final act as it reminded all of us how we tend to go about our lives without really enjoying the small moments that have made us the people that we are today. As I write this, there are several moments in my life that I have trouble revisiting because I did not consider it a top moment. In reality, life is shorter than we think and should be spent valuing the small things.

    Another aspect of the play that I felt was important was the casting. When one thinks of a town in the early 1900’s, very few would think of a diverse town where tensions over race and nationality mattered little. Readings suggest that Wilder produced “Our Town”, so that it could be relevant to all generations. I believe that the mission of the play was to emphasize the human experience and remind us that we all share these stages of life. I noticed in the play that race was not mentioned a single time and the actors made all of the relationships natural in a way challenged the way that we interact with each other. It is interesting to think of this “post racial” society in 1914 when we are nowhere near one in our own time, 150 years after the Civil War. The play successfully challenged other production’s casting through its diverse cast. Showing the play in Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln was assassinated is significant, as I believe the multicultural representation and the freedoms that the town enjoyed were those that he worked so hard to bring about.

    • I like that you picked up on the subtleties of the play; like that the play was broken up in stages. I think your point about not always revisiting moments in life that you deem not to be a “top moment” was particularly profound. It’s often hard to recall the small moments in our lives even though they are just as much a part of who we are and our lives as the “top moments.” The reminder to value small things was definitely something that I also took away from this play.

      Another, less subtle but important point that you posted about the casting of the play. I was genuinely intrigued by this as well. Thinking of this as a post Civil War society that can’t even parallel with today’s “semi-segregated” society was really interesting. I remember my first reaction to this and being shocked and curious about what this casting would mean in the context of the play. I understood it later when thinking about the universality of the play and its message. Nevertheless you brought an insightful point to mind about the mere location of the play and the social significance of that.

  22. “Do human beings ever notice life while they live it?”

    I thought this question in its profundity described the theme of the play. I think even the lack of extensive props hinted at that because it forced the audience to focus only on the telling of the lives of the people of Grover’s Corners. Not having elaborate props and miming day to day duties not only made the play itself feel more timeless and relatable, but took the focus figuratively and literally away from “things” and focused it on the thoughts, feelings and actions of people. It caused us to immerse ourselves in who was doing what and what that meant instead of the tools they used to do it which I thought was particularly special.

    From start to finish I thought Our Town was an exceptional and timeless play. I thought that the play in its simplicity and relevance, allowed connections to be made to an immense amount of places because of the incredibly relatable situations that were presented.

    I also noticed that there were underlying social issues that the play mentioned that were relevant in many ways to the social issues of today. I remember one of the more striking moments were the few statements made about people on the “other side of town;” “The lazy and quarrelsome sink to the bottom” and “Help those who can help themselves and all else take care of themselves.” I thought that this often shapes the sentiment of some people toward underprivileged groups. It made me think about the fact that people can be so blind to the experiences of others and fail to realize the issues, the stories, and for that matter, even the lives of others and why they might be in the positions they are in, not because they are lazy or don’t desire more but because they lack the opportunity or privilege to do so. I noticed that these quotes were unaddressed, and in fact, blatantly skipped over early on but I think that the many thoughts of the dead townspeople inadvertently addressed this. “It [life] goes so fast we do not have time to look at one another” and “I feel like they’re [live people] shut up in little boxes.” Presenting the idea that maybe people are so engulfed in themselves and their small corner of the world that they lack the will to take a step back and appreciate it, question it, and even improve it. The hope of seeing this play and it being adapted and readapted, time and again is that it might inspire people to do just that.

    • Wow, that is an interesting take on them skipping over those who could not do for themselves. I definitely agree that the play highlighted how we put an emphasis on things. A lot of the thoughts that we all had were ” I wonder where the props were?” or “Why they didn’t use props?”. This was not a mistake or a lack of funding. I believe that it was to highlight that which has not been so obvious to us; that we sometimes value things over the people who are using those things. That being said, I remember one instance in the play when a character mentioned the social injustices that occurred in Grover’s Corner and how nobody did anything about it. His outburst was taken lightly and he was calmed by a nearby citizen. Throughout the play I waited on that to be address and it was not. You mentioned that some people can be blind to the experiences of others and not appreciate their own fortune. Often times, their fortune is due to their socio-economic position they were born in instead of hard work. It is easy to get consumed with self and disregard the world around you. “Our Town”, and through extension “Our Suburb”, challenges us to not only examine the simple things in our lives, but also to consider the world outside of ourselves.

  23. I was absolutely blown away by this fabulous production. Its evocations of love, loss, and longing were timeless and profound. I had never seen the production, but I loved the decisions its creators made in terms of the actors’ races and genders. I think the play, although distinctly provincial and anachronistic, was rendered timeless by the color-blind nature of its casting. The diverse composition, in combination with a set/props so nonexistent that mimed actions were our window into the characters’ world, created a space that was extremely easy for me to access as an audience member. The sound effects created by the actors’ voices only enhanced the accessibility of the production. I also found myself noticing aspects of acting that haven’t stood out to me in productions prior – body language, inflection, enunciation, gait. This simplicity, in combination with a heightened focus on these aforementioned visual and aural qualities, gave me a sense of shared humanism with the play’s characters.

    The facilitator of the relationship between audience and the characters of Grover’s Corner was obviously the narrator, who frequently broke the fourth wall to direct our attention to certain moments and interactions. I think this also contributed to, what I felt was, a very personal and almost private viewing experience. At moments I felt as if I were alone, just outside Grover’s Corner, watching this world unfold. The narrator’s sense of hospitality, friendship, and comfort, also contributed to this illusion. I think these directorial choices (the narrator’s ease, the miming, the human sound effects) made the show’s tragic moments all the more tangible.

    Thus, by the time Act III came around, I felt as if I had formed a personal relationship with every character. The chilling staging of the cemetery (floating graves that looked eerily like stars) gave all of Act III an ephemeral, immortal vibe. Given that the staging, and the content, of Act III were so abstract, I can imagine productions in which the audience might feel lost or disconnected. But because, somehow, the fantasy evoked by the miming/human sound effects/etc. resulted in a sense of verisimilitude, this scene to me felt more real than the funerals I’ve attended. Needless to say, I was moved to tears that lasted till curtain. This show was stunning.

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