Meet Yourself, Family, and Friends on Stage

Our Town (Perennial Classics Edition)

By Thornton Wilder

Novels, films, dance, and plays at their most basic help us understand ourselves, put our lives into perspective, and most of all show us that we are not alone; that regardless of our age, our nationality, our position in life, we are, when reduced to the most elemental aspects of living, more alike than different. Few works accomplish this better and in the simplest way imaginable than Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Populated with archetypes, or representations, of ourselves, it is a play about every one of us.

In structure, it spans the progression of our lives: Daily Life, Love and Marriage, Death and Dying. Each of the three acts presents the ordinariness of life, which, as we learn in the end, can be quite extraordinary, the very essence of living, if we pause occasionally to relish them. Of course, as Emily realizes in the end, we rarely, if ever, do. The terrible sadness here is that we miss so much, as those of a certain age will attest; the hope is that we will pay more attention.

The action in the play is the routine of living, routine that even today mimics in general terms how we go about living our lives. The characters aren’t what we would consider fully fleshed individuals; they are frameworks upon which we can drape our own experiences, the outlines of people who may remind us of acquaintances, of events that transpired in our own lives and our families. Yes, situations and families and people may seem different from these early 20th century New Englanders, but Wilder has drawn them broadly enough so that we see that while we might be different we also share much. This accounts for the fact that troupes have successfully performed Our Town around the world and regularly since its first performance in 1938 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ.

You’ll find this volume a particularly good one to own. It begins with a brief introduction by David Margulies, a playwright himself and prof at Yale, that puts you in a frame of mind to enjoy and get the most from the play. In an afterword by Tappan Wilder, Thornton’s nephew, provides insights into the play and excepts from Thornton’s correspondence and discussions of the play. w/c

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