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Our Town

Our Town
1938 first edition cover from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Written by Thornton Wilder
Characters Stage Manager
Mrs. Myrtle Webb
Mr. Charles Webb
Emily Webb
Joe Crowell Jr.
Mrs. Julia Gibbs
Dr. Frank F. Gibbs
Simon Stimson
Mrs. Soames
George Gibbs
Howie Newsome
Rebecca Gibbs
Wally Webb
Professor Willard
Woman in the Balcony
Man in the Auditorium
Lady in the Box
Mrs. Louella Soames
Constable Warren
Si Crowell
Three Baseball Players
Sam Craig
Joe Stoddard
Date premiered February 4, 1938
Place premiered Henry Miller's Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Subject Life and death in an American small town
Genre Drama
Setting 1901 to 1913. Grover's Corners, New Hampshire near Massachusetts.

Our Town is a 1938 three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. Set in the fictional American small town of Grover's Corners, it tells the story of an average town's citizens in the early twentieth century as depicted through their everyday lives. Scenes from the town's history between the years of 1901 and 1913 are performed. The play is performed without a set and the actors mime their actions without the use of props. Throughout Wilder uses metatheatrical devices, such as narration by a stage manager.

Our Town was first performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey on January 22, 1938. It later went on to success on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It remains popular today and revivals are frequent.

Contents

  • Synopsis 1
    • Act I: Daily Life 1.1
    • Act II: Love and Marriage 1.2
    • Act III: Death and Dying 1.3
  • Characters 2
  • Composition 3
  • Setting 4
  • Style 5
  • Production history 6
  • Awards 7
  • Adaptations 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Synopsis

Act I: Daily Life

The Stage Manager [often in story] introduces the audience to the minute town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, and the people living there as a morning begins in the year 1901. Joe Crowell, one of the characters in the book delivers the paper to Doc Gibbs, Howie Newsome delivers the milk, and the Webb and Gibbs households send their children off to school, on this beautifully simple morning.

Act II: Love and Marriage

Three years pass and George and Emily prepare to wed. The day is filled with stress. Howie Newsome is delivering milk in the pouring rain while Si Crowell, younger brother of Joe, laments how George's baseball talents will be squandered. George pays an awkward visit with his soon-to-be in-laws. Here, the Stage Manager 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

Characters

  • Stage Manager – a narrator, commentator, and guide through Grover's Corners. He joins in the action of the play periodically, as the reverend at the wedding, the soda shop owner, a local townsmen, etc., and speaks directly to Emily after her death.
  • Emily Webb – arguably the main character; we follow her from a precocious young girl through her wedding to George Gibbs and her early death.
  • George Gibbs – arguably the main character; the boy next door, a kind but irresponsible teenager who matures over time and becomes a responsible husband, father and farmer.
  • Frank Gibbs – George's father, the town doctor
  • Julia (Hersey) Gibbs – George's mother. She dreams of going to Paris, but doesn't get there. Dies later while visiting her daughter in Ohio. She saved $350 for the trip from the sale of an antique furniture piece, but ultimately willed it to George and Emily.
  • Charles Webb – Emily's father, editor of the Grover's Corners Sentinel
  • Myrtle Webb – Emily's mother

Secondary characters

  • Joe and Si Crowell – local paperboys. Joe's intelligence earns him a full scholarship to MIT where he graduates at the top of his class. His promise will be cut short on the fields of France during World War I, according to the Stage Manager. Both he and his brother Si hold marriage in high disdain.
  • Simon Stimson – the choir director and church organist. We never learn the root cause of his alcoholism and later suicide. He is still bitter and cynical beyond the grave.
  • Howie Newsome – the milkman, a fixture of Grover's Corners.
  • Rebecca Gibbs – George's younger sister. Later elopes with a traveling salesman and settles in Ohio.
  • Wally Webb – Emily's younger brother. Dies of a burst appendix on a Boy Scout camping trip.
  • Professor Willard – a rather long-winded lecturer
  • Woman in Auditorium – concerned with temperance
  • Man in Auditorium – concerned with social justice
  • Another Woman in Auditorium – concerned with culture and beauty
  • Mrs. Louella Soames – a gossipy townswoman and member of the choir
  • Constable Bill Warren – the policeman
  • Three Baseball Players – who mock George at the wedding
  • Joe Stoddard – the undertaker
  • Sam Craig – a nephew of Mrs Gibbs who left town to seek his fortune. He came back after 12 years in Buffalo for Emily's funeral.
  • Dead Man
  • Dead Woman
  • Mr. Carter
  • Farmer McCarty
  • Bessie – Howie Newsome's horse (visible to the characters, but not the audience)

Composition

Wilder wrote the play while in his 30s. In June 1937, he lived in the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, one of the many locations where he worked on the play. During a visit to Zürich in September 1937, it is believed he drafted the entire third act in one day after a long evening walk in the rain with a friend, author Samuel Morris Steward.[1]


Setting

The play is set in the actual theatre where the play is being performed, but the year is always 1938. The stage manager of the 1933 production introduces the play-within-the-play which is set in the fictional community of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. The Stage Manager gives the coordinates of Grover's Corners as 42°40′ north latitude and 70°37′ west longitude, which is in Massachusetts, about a thousand feet off the coast of Rockport. The author also refers to the town of Concord.

Style

Wilder was dissatisfied with the theatre of his time: "I felt that something had gone wrong....I began to feel that the theatre was not only inadequate, it was evasive."[2] His response was to use a homework, conversing through upstairs windows, is performed with the two actors standing atop separate ladders to represent their neighboring houses. Wilder once said: "Our claim, our hope, our despair are in the mind – not in things, not in 'scenery.' "[3]

Production history

Our Town was first performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey on January 22, 1938. It next opened at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts on January 25, 1938. Its New York City debut was on February 4, 1938 at Henry Miller's Theatre, and later moved to the Morosco Theatre; this production was produced and directed by Jed Harris.[4] Wilder received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938 for the work.[5]

In 1946, the Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin "on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave."[6]

Awards

Adaptations

Hal Holbrook as the Stage Manager in the 1977 television adaptation.

The play has been adapted numerous times:

  • Our Town was first performed on radio May 12, 1939, on The Campbell Playhouse. The cast included Orson Welles as the Stage Manager, John Craven of the original stage production as George Gibbs, and Patricia Newton as Emily Webb.
  • Aaron Copland. Many members of the original cast repeated their roles in this film, although the ending was changed so that Emily lived.
  • Our Town (1940 radio), on May 6, 1940, a radio version was performed by many of the same film actors for Lux Radio Theater.
  • Eva Marie Saint as Emily. The first and only musical version of the play to be telecast (so far).
  • Our Town, a 1977 television adaptation of the play, starring Glynnis O'Connor as Emily Webb.
  • Grover's Corners, a 1987 musical adaptation performed at the Marriott Theatre.
  • Our Town, a 1989 telecast of a Lincoln Center stage production starring Spalding Gray, Frances Conroy, Penelope Ann Miller, and Eric Stoltz
  • OT: Our Town, a 2002 documentary by Scott Hamilton Kennedy about a production of the play by Dominguez High School in Compton, California
  • Our Town (2003 film), a television adaptation of a 2002 Broadway revival starring Paul Newman, this time as the Stage Manager
  • Our Town (opera), an operatic version of the play with music by Ned Rorem
  • An award-winning revival of Our Town opened at the Barrow Street Theatre on February 26, 2009. The production was directed by David Cromer, who also performed the role of Stage Manager for much of the show's run. Upon closing, the production had played four preview and 644 regular performances, making it the longest-running production of the play in its history. In addition to Cromer, other notable actors who performed in the role of Stage Manager included Helen Hunt, Michael McKean, Jason Butler Harner, Stephen Kunken and Michael Shannon.[7]
  • In 1994, Philip Jerry choreographed a balletic adaptation set to the music of Aaron Copeland and has been performed by the American Repertory Ballet in Princeton, New Jersey in the decades since its premiere.[8]

References

  1. ^ Steward, Samuel; Gertrude Stein; Alice B. Toklas (1977). Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas. Houghton Mifflin. p. 32.  
  2. ^ Wilder, Thornton. Thornton Wilder, Collected Plays and Writings on Theater. Preface.
  3. ^ Lumley, Frederick (1967). New Trends in 20th Century Drama: A Survey since Ibsen and Shaw. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 333.  
  4. ^ "Our Town". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  5. ^ The Pulitzer Board (1938). "Pulitzer Prize Winners of 1938". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  6. ^ "Play 'Our Town' is Banned in Soviet Berlin Sector", Christian Science Monitor, Feb 13, 1946, p. 13.
  7. ^ "Our Town". Playbill.com. Retrieved 2010-12-12. 
  8. ^ http://www.americanrepertoryballet.org/ARB/repertory/Our-Town

Further reading

  • Wilder, Thornton (1938). Our Town: A Play in Three Acts. New York: Coward McCann, Inc. pp. 128 pp.  

External links

  • Our Town at the Internet Broadway Database
  • 'Our Town' Teaching and Reading Educational Materials; by The Thornton Wilder Society
  • Cummings Study Guide of "Our Town"
  • 1940 filmOur Town; free download at archive.org
  • Two authorized productions on DVD
  • 'Our Town' Plot Summary and Critical Analysis; by The Thornton Wilder Society
  • Documentary Video on the legacy of 'Our Town'; by The Thornton Wilder Society
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