Directors’ Notes: Exploring OUR TOWN

Actors, Accents, Imaginary Ice Cream, a Chair Ballet, Music and the Stars

By Randolyn Zinn

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Alexandra Jennings, Richard Howe, Katherine Stevenson, Jim Staudt in Our Town

This past February, after a three-hour drive north from Manhattan, Allen McCullough and I found ourselves in an eerie New England landscape. A white opaque sky slid seamlessly at the horizon line into glazed fields piled high with snow. The back kitchen windows of the donated house we would call home for the next seven weeks had frozen into a solid slab of icicle. Shivering, we wondered if we had made a mistake….did the world really need another production of Our Town?

We had arrived in Cambridge, New York to co-direct the play at the acclaimed Theater Company at Hubbard Hall. After a warming bowl of soup, we bundled against the cold, stepped outside to gaze up at the sky and pondered Thornton Wilder’s one-sentence description of his play. “The life of a village set against the life of the stars.”

This essay is a personal recounting and an attempt to catch hold of, at least in part, the ephemeral experience of making theater.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

“Making art and community happen” is the ethos of Hubbard Hall. Several years ago, a few community members formed a non-profit corporation to rehabilitate the lovely 1878 opera house. Later the out buildings were purchased and restored through the Community Partnership, of which Hubbard Hall is a member, with public grant monies.

We think Hubbard Hall succeeds in its mission to “promote and serve as a magnet for artistic activity”. Professionals mentor amateurs. Classes in dance, music, writing, and a host of other offerings draw children from neighboring towns. In addition to the Theater Company, a summer Children’s Theater offers local kids the chance to act. The Hubbard Hall Opera Theater is in residence and visiting dance companies and music ensembles, including Music From Salem with its roster of internationally recognized musicians, perform there. The campus is also home to a Village Store, an art gallery and a seasonal Farmers’ Market. In short, Hubbard Hall is that rare thing in America – an arts colony tucked inside a small town.

Benjie White is its steward and a trained actor who values process over slick product – one of the many reasons Allen and I love the place. As the Theater Company’s founding artistic director Kevin McGuire wrote to us after Our Town opened, “The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall is all about breaking new ground, taking chances, presenting great plays and doing work that is new and unexpected.”

PREPARATION

We wanted to provide a safe rehearsal environment for the 18 actors in our cast to explore and improvise. We also hoped to offer audiences a bracing, new experience of the play. In addition to co-directing, Allen would play the role of the Stage Manager. Wilder’s choice to use a narrator in Our Town who functions much like a Greek Chorus, interrupting scenes, commenting on the action, and offering philosophical reflections, was pretty avant-garde for 1938, the year of the play’s premiere. Wilder was ahead of his time.

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Allen McCullough as The Stage Manager interrupts The Webbs played by Monica Cangero and Richard Howe

Apparently Wilder loathed theater in his day when it pandered to “soothe” the middle class. “The tragic had no heat,” he complained, “the comic had no bite.” Today he might not like to see how Our Town is often rendered as a sentimental trope on small town life, piling lots of unwanted clichés and scenery onto his spare text.

Our Town is not a goody-goody play nor is its depiction of rural life “quaint.” Wilder might present familiar situations, but he brings them alive with fresh and complex writing. He emphasizes the wonders and beauty of daily life, yet his message is neither sentimental nor romantic as it reaches beyond the limited grasp of his characters’ understandings of life. Allen and I wanted to show that the men and women of Grover’s Corners are not as perfect or without conflict as its ingénue Emily would have them.

Emily: I always expect a man to be perfect and I think he should be.

George: Oh…I don’t think it’s possible to be perfect, Emily.

Emily: Well my father is, and as far as I can see your father is. There’s no reason on earth why you shouldn’t be too.


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Alexandra Jennings as Emily and Jim Staudt as George

THE FIRST REHEARSAL

In keeping with the Hall’s mandate to include the community, nine months before rehearsals began, we held open local auditions for the play to augment the two Equity and three non-Equity actors we would bring from New York. It turns out that the Cambridge valley is populated with many talented people who moonlight as thespians after their workday is done. We found a terrific cast, including two high school seniors, a college grad to play an 11-year old girl; an 11-year old girl to play a boy; a math teacher; a book store manager; a furniture restorer; a historical preservationist, and a financial analyst.

We went into the project with a few ideas and a lot of questions about how to breathe new life into the most produced play in America. I kept thinking…Our Town is your town…but how could we make that feel real for the actors?

An assignment might be handy, so I asked the cast to prepare short presentations about their hometowns for the first rehearsal. Richard Howe, who was playing Editor Webb, confessed later that despite his 30 years as an actor, he felt stricken at the prospect of speaking about a personal matter in front of a room full of strangers. “Terrifying,” he said.

Nevertheless, the exercise broke the ice. It was striking how Louisville, North Bennington, Hastings-on-Hudson, Hamilton, Ohio, St. Petersburg, Florida, Larchmont, Hoosick Falls and Cambridge, New York all shared qualities with Grover’s Corners, the play’s fictitious town. Deb Borthwick recounted how, like Emily in Act One, she could hear choir practice wafting through her bedroom windows at night when she was growing up. Apparently, Kinderhook, New York also had a town drunk like Our Town’s Simon Stimson. Erik Barnum reported that Shorty, his local soda fountain man, reminded him of Grover’s Corners’ Mr. Morgan. We had begun to build “our” town.

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The first table read of Our Town at Hubbard Hall photo by Jonathan Barber

WE PRESENT A FEW IDEAS TO THE CAST

** To honor Wilder’s wish to not use scenery.

** To use more live music than usual, which meant that the role of Simon Stimson, the organist at the Congregational Church, must be played by an accomplished musician – although we hadn’t yet found who this might be.

** To make all the sound effects live.

** To rotate our Professor Willard sometimes with outside actors (and non-actors) in the community.

** To use contemporary dress, not costumes from 1899–1911

** And no New Hampshire dialects.

One of the actors balked at those two last points, declaring that Wilder had intended period clothes and New Hampshire accents. Most productions do. Why go against tradition?

A lively discussion ensued. Actors cited successful contemporary updates of classic plays like Shakespeare’s as a legitimate practice when they illuminate the text. I think I said something like “Acting in this play will be like living in an old house where you don’t wear corsets and bustles, but pull on jeans and sneakers in the morning.”

We weren’t cavalier in making this choice. In thinking about it further, if we had been doing Chekhov’sThree Sisters, for example, we would honor its period details because Chekhov doesn’t abstract time or place in his plays. A gravestone is a gravestone is a gravestone.

But in Our Town, the dead speak. “Ibsen and Chekhov carried realism as far it could go,” Wilder opines, “and it took all their genius to do it.” Wilder wanted to make a different kind of theatre and he created a narrator that addresses the audience from a bare stage with virtually no scenery on it to do it. The play's structure also skews expectations about chronological order; time shifts back and forth. In all his plays, Wilder treats the stage as a stage. Reality is presented as a theatrical event — not a museum of reality. “The theater longs to represent the symbols of things,” he wrote, “not things themselves. Onstage it is always now.”

Even with these props from the playwright, Allen and I went home after that rehearsal wondering what Mr. Wilder would think of our idea. Would he agree with us that most of the productions of the play we had seen were dispiriting because actors focused solely on getting those Yankee accents right without activating the circumstances of the scenes? The year before we had seen one brilliant production in New York directed by David Cromer, who dispensed with period costumes and accents that, in our opinion, brought out the timeliness of the play without sacrificing its timelessness. We owe Cromer a nod for inspiring us, but in the end we made several other choices that diverged from his.

IT'S CALLED A…PLAY

The concern over costumes and accents faded as actors dug into their roles. Allen and I thought it best not to block scenes right away so as to give the company time to get acquainted with the play. Besides, staging sometimes falls into place naturally.

In the meantime we played around. A lot. Actors often feel obliged to rise to what they think is the standard idea of a character being “angry” or “hurt” before exploring more deeply what’s at stake. To counteract this obligation, we set up some structured improvisations.

For instance: in the scene between George and his father-in-law-to-be Editor Webb, I asked the two actors, Jim Staudt and Richard Howe, to try the scene as if they had come unexpectedly upon each other naked, in a gym shower. I didn't know if they would find anything useful in that adjustment, but the actors were game and connected to the discomfort that is inherent in Wilder’s scene. It was fun for them to do and funny to watch. Interestingly, even after the scene was worked line-by-line, the playful spirit of that improvised rehearsal never left them in performance.

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The morning of the wedding. Jim Staudt as George and Richard Howe as Editor Webb photo by Jonathan Barber

For a run-thru of Act One, Allen asked everyone to play his or her scenes either as The Best Day Of Their Lives or The Worst and then switch back and forth when he snapped his fingers. Actors weren't off book yet, but the exercise revealed possibilities in the scenes we had never thought were possible.

It's true that these “as ifs” take a broad approach, but much like a large shovel unearths unexpected treasures in hard ground, these adjustments free actors to explore. I keep learning that a good play will withstand such pushing and pulling. Michael Howard, Allen's acting teacher, taught him to use the “as ifs” and we have noticed that their power comes from offering actors something to concentrate on besides acting, which sounds strange, I know, but that's really the secret of acting.

A script easily becomes a trap, ensnaring creativity until an actor feels locked up. The as-ifs also level the playing field between trained and untrained actors. We were lucky in Our Town rehearsals that most of the actors were willing to experiment. For some of them, the improves yielded a sense of freedom and choices they could integrate, but not everyone gained insight from them and that was all right with us too. Every actor has a different process and one of the director's jobs is to find how best to serve each one.

IT'S NOT EASY TO ACT

I have great respect for what actors do. Try standing onstage to deliver lines and you will instantly realize that the requirements for performing onstage, alone or with another person, demand a focus of concentration quite difficult to hold onto for a variety of reasons.

Amateurs may think that if they set their faces this way or that on a particular line or stress the same word in the same place in the text that they’re good to go, but such strategies rarely arouse much interest or sympathy. Something altogether different is required.

An actor must figure out what your character needs or wants from other characters. And you use yourself in the circumstances, for instance: If I were trying to ask my mother a difficult question, how would I do it? You must determine the event of the scene…for your character. If you think exclusively in literary terms, you’ll be lost. You can’t act a theme, a symbol or a metaphor. An actor friend of ours told us that a director asked her to “be more infectious…”. He meant that he wanted her to affect the other people in the scene, but an actor can't play a quality and get good results. “Be funnier,” is a classic director request, and again, I recognize where that request comes from, watching from the outside as directors do, but “be funnier” is woefully abstract. Actors need to find very specific keys for unlocking their talents.

More useful questions include but are not limited to: What makes this day different from every other day for your character? Where have you just come from and where are you going when the scene is over? What makes your character different from say, your mother, father, sister or brother in the play?

You must also balance technical and emotional concerns in equal measure while enunciating with enough volume so that words are audible without sounding artificial while you respond to your scene partner with genuine behaviors pertinent to the situation. Beginners must absolutely learn how to quiet that wiggling foot or notice the unconscious swaying side to side they do without realizing it. They’re nervous. We understand. That’s why studying technique is crucial, so as to learn how to relax and remember what it feels like for a butterfly to land on your nose, to learn to play again like a child.

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Emily Webb has trouble asking her mother a personal question. Alexandra Jennings and Monica Cangero. Photo by Jonathan Barber

The circumstances in the play, and in particular, the scenes, are your engine and raison d’etre. Here are a few drawn from the play:

* You want to see the woman you love, but your mother won’t let you leave the house.

* You have a question, but don’t know how to ask it.

* You want to find a way to tell the truth without hurting the other person’s feelings.

* You need someone to listen to you but, he won’t take you seriously.

Logical questions can inspire imaginative choices too. Is it cold outside before the scene starts? If it rained the night before, does that mean your character enters navigating puddles? Yum, the strawberry ice cream in your soda is delicious, but is it cold enough to give you a headache?

In Our Town, there are puddles to navigate the morning of the wedding, and it’s freezing cold outside on Emily’s twelfth birthday. Also, that strawberry soda is invisible in Act Two, as is the wood stove Mrs. Gibbs lights before the breakfast scene in Act One. Mimed actions in this play must be physically precise enough so that the audience feels a kinesthetic response – but the actor must not ignore the emotional circumstances. From a dramatic standpoint, emotional circumstances between characters trump “business”, i.e. the physical tasks. Sometimes it's better, as Kevin McGuire likes to say, to “Don't just do something, stand there!”

A willingness to play the fool is a useful impulse for an actor to cultivate, along with openness, generosity, physical co-ordination, emotional vulnerability and…well, the list is long. The gifted actor uses him or herself in every moment while accessing a deep understanding of, and ability to express human behavior in a myriad ways. Sure, you say, we all know this. But it isn’t as easy to accomplish these tasks as one might assume. A good actor makes it look easy. He can hit his marks, play the underlying circumstances and be alive to each moment so that it seems like the scene had never been rehearsed.

Watch this clip and notice how Alexandra Jennings and Jim Staudt approach the scene.

“Our Town” at Hubbard Hall 2011 (Soda Fountain Scene) Alexandra Jennings and Jim Staudt from William Stribling on Vimeo.

One night after rehearsal Rick wrote us this email:

There is not a single person in the cast who has not been willing to let go of their comfort zones…trusting that we will find yet deeper layers of the human experience that this play gives us such a wonderful opportunity to express. I watch rehearsals…amazed. Everybody is getting so much more genuine and honest and human all the time. I've done hundreds of theatre projects in my life. This one is turning out to be particularly special to me.

TWO DIRECTORS

Actors need to be reminded about circumstances and intentions during rehearsals, and the director is the one to do that (an actor should never give another actor a note). Directors must also analyze the play’s construction so that scenes flow together and accumulate into acts that bridge meaning and passion, building towards climaxes with surprise, while providing visual excitement and rhythmic cohesiveness.

Usually there is only one director, but in our partnership, Allen and I are learning that we offer distinct yet complementary perspectives. If we were to say that we operate like a duet played on violin and piano, we would also reserve the right to change instruments. We know a lot of the same things and I think we learn from each other; but basically, Allen is keyed into how actors work and providing methods for discovering intention and keeping hold of circumstances. I know the performer’s mind too and understand the body’s communicative possibilities in comic and tragic gesture as well as how to translate emotion through spatial design gleaned from my years as a dancer and choreographer. Recently, I have come to think of staging as tracing the outer form of the inner story.

NO PROPS. NO SCENERY

Grover’s Corners, the locale of Our Town, is represented in the script by a bare stage and two tables set at either side to indicate the households of the Gibbs and the Webbs. As the Stage Manager says early on, tapping one of those tables, “There’s some scenery for those who think they have to have scenery.”

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Breakfast at the Gibbs and Webb households. Author photo.

Wilder studied Chinese and Japanese theater traditions and found that they treated the stage as a stage. From his essay “Some Thoughts on Playwriting” he lays out his ideas.

If Shakespeare’s Juliet moves about in a realistic room, one receives the impression that the events of the play happened only to her, in that place, in that time; whereas if she is placed on a bare stage, the events are released from the particular and Juliet becomes every girl in love, in any time and in all places.

In Our Town Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs string imaginary beans. We never see the newspapers Joe and his brother Si toss. Howie Newsome the milkman pulls imaginary reins of his imaginary horse Bessie, and in Act Two, a pine board spans two chairs to denote a soda fountain counter .

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The Stage Manager, Allen McCullough, setting up the soda fountain counter. Photo by Jonathan Barber.

This is theater, Wilder seems to be saying, let’s pretend. And indeed, the audience is inspired to participate imaginatively in Our Town, a pleasure that may be one reason that it has endured. He writes

In its healthiest ages the theater has always exhibited the least scenery. In Aristophanes The Clouds – 423 B. C. — two houses are represented on the stage, inside one of them we see two beds. Strepsiades is talking in his sleep about his racehorses. A few minutes later he crosses the stage to Socrates’s house, the Idea Factory, the “Thinkery…”

Sounds very much like the set-up of the Webb and Gibbs domiciles in Our Town.

In Act Three Emily, having died in childbirth, “goes back” to earth to relive her twelfth birthday. Cromer took a different tack in his production, revealing at that moment a wonderful 1899 kitchen with real bacon that everyone could smell sizzling on a real stove. As much as we love it, we weren’t keen to steal Cromer’s coup de theatre, so we decided to keep our set simple and go back to Wilder’s original idea about the scene.

Moliere said that for the theater all he needed was a platform and a passion or two. The climax of this play needs only five square feet of boarding and the passion to know what life means to us.

We dressed the Editor and Mrs. Webb in clothing of 1899, and the effect was startling when Emily walks back into her girlhood “kitchen” in modern dress to find her mother stirring batter for her birthday cake in a long period dress and apron.

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Alexandra Jennings and Monica Cangero in Act Three of Our Town

SOUND EFFECTS

** The Stage Manager strikes his hand against his clipboard to simulate the thwack of a thrown newspaper hitting a porch.

** Howie Newsome aka Collin Smith emerged as our sound effects man. He used his voice to cock-a-doodle-doo the dawn; impersonate a factory whistle; and at one point, in one hand, he spun a New Year’s Eve noisemaker to simulate a push lawnmower while ringing a school bell with the other. Constable Warren aka Chris Barlow furnished Collin with a wooden child’s toy that produced a remarkably accurate aural facsimile of a train whistle.

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Collin Smith as Howie Newsome and Chris Barlow as Constable Warren.

Rick Howe casually mentioned how much he liked the Stage Manager interrupting scenes with the actors as if to coach them, which is different from Wilder’s intention to instruct the audience.

Stage Manager: George and Emily are going to show you now the conversation they had when they first knew that…that…as the saying goes…they were meant for one another. But before they do it,

(in our production, the Stage Manager turns to the actors to say) I want you to try and remember what it was like to have been very young; when you were like a person sleepwalking, and you didn’t quite see the street you were in, and didn’t quite hear everything that was said to you. (to George) And you were just a little bit crazy.

Rick didn’t know what else we might find in this vein, or if he did, he didn’t presume to suggest it. His gentle nudge gave me the idea to try something rather untraditional for the opening of Acts One and Two. By using the full company speaking selected lines that the Stage Manager usually delivers as a monologue, it would be as if the cast were saying, Here we are, a company of contemporary actors, ready to inhabit these characters and show you the play. It seemed perfectly in keeping with Wilder’s practice of treating the stage as a stage.

We divided Allen’s lines among the cast and the syncing work beautifully with Wilder’s text.

Stage Manager: This play is called…

Company: ‘Our Town’.

When Allen, hearing the rich tutti sound of the entire company proclaiming the title of the show, and started to cry, we knew we were onto something good. He stopped to wipe his eyes, chuckling a bit at his now-famous penchant for feeling things so acutely, and I watched the company bond when they tried it again and the same thing happened. It was a beautiful moment and a perfect example of how theater can be truly collaborative.

Stage Manager: It was written by Thornton Wilder; Produced by….. (Hubbard Hall Projects) and directed by….(Randolyn Zinn and Allen McCullough). In it you will see…

Company: (here our actors introduced themselves by name.) Miss Cangero, Miss Jennings, Miss Gorman, Mr. Howe, Miss Breyer, Miss Stevenson, and so on.

For the opening of Act Two after intermission, we divvied up the Stage Manager’s lines again, but somehow it wasn’t quite enough; we’d already seen that at the top of the show. Wilder has the Stage Manager say that “…it’s been raining. It’s been pouring and thundering….”

Coincidentally, a few nights before, Rick had shown us a video of a chorus that creates a thunderstorm by finger snapping and jumping. I asked the company to try the progression and we happily played around with it long past quitting time. You definitely do not need 85 million dollars to make theatre.

Even after a show has opened, performances deepen and the production oftens reveal other latent possibilities that I hadn't seen before, so I like to keep working on it. Two weeks into the run of this one, I realized that we could we add another live sound effect because a few company members were free to come to the edge of the deck to cluck when Mrs. Gibbs “feeds” her “chickens”. It didn't take more than a minute to rehearse, but hearing invisible “chickens” added a lot. Fortunately, everybody liked it and took the change with cheer. Which reminds me of a famous anecdote that I will probably get wrong about Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam, who reportedly quipped to Irving Berlin when he asked her to learn new lyrics “Call me Mrs. Birds Eye, honey. This show is frozen!”

PROFESSOR WILLARD

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Keelye St. John as Professor Willard with Allen McCullough as the Stage Manager

We would alternate Keelye St. John as our regular Professor with several other actors (and one non-actor) from the community. We liked the idea of building bridges to other actors who couldn’t be in the show for one reason or another.

Benjie White did one performance. Rob Woolmington agreed to come in (he’s a lawyer); John Hadden, an actor and the new artistic director of the Theatre Company took a turn, as did Kurt Jackson, an actor and professor of theater at Bennington College. Angus McCullough (an actor and artist/architect), who also designed the show’s poster, performed on the last Saturday night of the run. Each brought something distinct to the role and because the part is basically a free-standing lecture, it could be rehearsed just once with notes-in-hand.

MUSIC

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John Eagle as Simon Stimson in rehearsal with co-director Allen McCullough photo by Jonathan Barber

It is likely that the unhappy organist in Grover’s Corners, who’s “seen a peck of trouble”, might be Wilder’s portrait of the artist living in a small town. Perhaps the hymns Simon Stimson teaches the local choir to sing not “loud all the time,” aren’t the only pieces he plays. Maybe when he is alone, he plays a different kind of music. Like Olivier Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards.” One of the greatest 20th century composers doesn’t at first seem to have much in common with Grover’s Corners until you hear how his music is akin to Wilder’s preoccupation with eternity. Years before I had danced to one of these pieces and hoped they might work well in this play.

John Eagle, who this year is teaching music at his alma mater Bennington College, came in to meet us. A composer and French horn player, he demonstrated that he could also play Messiaen on the piano, and was also game to act the part of Simon Stimson, having had some previous theatrical experience, so we signed him up.

Wilder includes hymns for the choir and wedding scenes, but I wanted more music to be in the play. After Stimson’s outburst during choir practice and the chorus leaves, I wondered if he could settle down to finish drinking from his flask and play something he loved? John and I found a few cacophonic measures that would scare the choir ladies as they walked home and we added underscoring during the moonlight scenes before Simon staggers home.

From dancing, I know that music can be an aural symbol that moves the listener into new feeling states. I hoped that we could go from from Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” at the end of Act Two directly into the third act, thereby cutting the second intermission. It worked, but there were problems to solve.

Shifting into the austere graveyard required the reorganization the chairs from the wedding. We staged a transition with the wedding celebrants either to set their chairs and exit, or stay onstage with their chairs in new places as “gravestones”. Mrs. Gibbs, 11-year old Wally Webb, Mrs. Soames, Farmer Carter and his wife, eventually Simon Stimson (a suicide), and Constable Warren take their seats as The Dead to watch the stars “while the earth part of ‘em burns away…”. Emily Webb joins them too, having died in childbirth.

This “chair ballet” was ugly before it was beautiful. It was maddening figuring out who went where when. Complicated charts and tape marks moved around a lot on the floor but we finally accomplished a transition that looked effortless. As the music underscored the reordering of chairs, the Stage Manager delivered the most moving speech in the play wherein he describes the graveyard and its history of stones dating back to 1670, the Civil War, and the work the buried do.

They’re waitin’. They’re waiting’ for something that they feel is comin’. Something important, and great. Aren’t they waitin’ for the eternal part in them to come out clear?

Finding the balance between all the elements was a delicate task. At one point in his speech, I asked the Stage Manager to pause and listen to the music. The Dead sat perfectly still, facing forward, their gaze held by a star off in the distance. The music built to a crescendo and when subsided, the Stage Manager resumed his speech.

The stage had become a liminal space where time was mutable and imagination determined what would happen next. No longer the landscape of Daily Life or Love and Marriage, music had made the stage into an in-between place where Emily could even visit the world of the living.

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Dave and Deb Borthwick, Victoria Gorman, Lucy Breyer, John Eagle, Alexandra Jennings and Keeley St. John. Author photo

“HUNDREDS…THOUSANDS…MILLIONS”

Perhaps the real protagonist of Our Town is time. At the start of the play, the town is presented in statistical terms by Professor Willard; but by the end we see the eternal. The lives may be small in Grover’s Corners, but they are part of a vast pattern

Like a sheared cliff flanking a highway displays stratified geological epochs, the play's narrative structure zigzags back and forth. Daily life in ancient Babylon is compared to daily life in Grover's Corners. Before the wedding, The Stage Manager zips us back a year then zooms forward to the ceremony and onto act three nine years later when ticking clocks are figuratively smashed into stars and talk of eternity takes center stage.

After graduating from Yale, Wilder studied ancient plumbing on Rome’s Palatine Hill. “An archaeologist’s eye combines the view of the telescope with the view of the microscope,” he writes in A Preface For Our Town. He employed that dual perspective in his plays.

Our Town is not offered as a picture of life in a New Hampshire village; or as a speculation about the conditions of life after death (that element I merely took from Dante’s Purgatory). It is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life. I have made the claim as preposterous as possible, for I have set the village against the largest dimension of time and place.

LETDOWN

After the sold-out houses, standing ovations, company parties and rave reviews (well, a couple were mixed-up), the inevitable always comes due. During the warm-up before the final performance, a nascent tear could be discerned in every eye. In the course of seven weeks, we had opened up to each other and made friends. And we wondered if we shouldn’t have enjoyed our time together more, all those wonderful dinners, staying up late hashing through rehearsal difficulties, laughing until our stomachs hurt. Which reminds me of Wilder’s thoughts on American loneliness. In his “Toward an American Language” he muses on how Americans connect to other Americans. “I am I because my plans characterize me.” New projects lend us a sense of identity and united us. Emily asks the Stage Manager in Act Three

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life as they live it? every…every minute?

Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets maybe. They do some.

Winter is giving way to spring. The fields have melted and the rivers are running. We're back home and reading over this essay, I see that I’ve left out a lot. We had a wonderful time exploring Our Town and so lucky to have generous people with us on the journey. We hope to go outside more often to watch the stars “doing their old crisscross journeys in the sky,” and so for now, until the next project, whatever that turns out to be, I'll leave you with the play’s cordial and comforting last line.

“Good Night.”

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The Theater Company at Hubbard Hall in Our Town

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