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Talk of Our Town

Two Chicago theatres have liberated Thornton Wilder’s warhorse of a play from its nostalgic conventions to deliver productions both radical and real. Why now?

(page 3 of 3)


Tim Curtis as Emily’s father with Westerfer

 

While the principals say it is coincidence that Hypocrites and Lookingglass decided to take on Our Town at about the same time, this play seems to irresistibly draw directors. Partly it’s their need to reinvent and make a mark on a masterpiece. But partly it’s our times as we wrestle with who we are at the turn of the new century. Our Town, set from 1901 to 1913, does that, too. What are families? What are communities? The characters in Our Town extend their hands to us, across a century, inviting us to join them on their journey to answer those existential questions.

Shapiro argues that Our Town manages to be timeless and timely all at once. “We need to think about how we deal with one another when we’re in the shared space,” she says. “That ‘shared space’ is humans who are alive at this moment. In Our Town, that is gently made literal in this little town.”

Tappan Wilder says his uncle was surprised people thought his play was about a little New Hampshire town. He quotes his uncle as saying, “My play’s about everybody, and everybody’s in my play.”

Rebecca Gibbs’s comment to her older brother, George, at the end of Act I seems to sum up that inclusiveness. In describing a letter mailed to an ill friend by her minister, Rebecca tells her brother of the address the envelope bore: “Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; . . . Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God.” What amazes and delights them both is that “the postman brought it just the same.”

Such small acts, in such universal circumstances, do indeed connect us all to the beauty that is our shared life.

Photograph: Emily Coughlin

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