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May 16th, 2009

Our Town

Our Town. Thornton Wilder's sentimental, multi-charactered mainstay of highschool drama clubs and amateur theatricals. Love, death, the turning of the seasons, and not a dry eye in the house. Stereotypes all around: the gruff but kindly Doctor, the crusty Editor of the town newspaper, their interchangeable and wistful Wives, the Town Drunk, the Young Lovers, and a Stage Manager with a bay window, a turnip watch, and a twinkle in his eye. Is there anyone in the world who hasn't seen it at least once?

Well, I thought I hadn't, until very near the end, when I flashed on a production mounted by the Upper School Drama Club that I saw when I was maybe 10, with the ingenue in her wedding dress reliving her 12th birthday after her death in childbed. I'd heard David Cromer's production was different from any other production of the play, ever. And I'd have to say that's a fair description. It was also beautifully acted, incredibly thoughtful and moving. And not sentimental in the least.

A little of this was owing to the costuming, which was pretty much jeans and cotton shirts and blouses. The modern dress worked fine, although it bothered the three of us (Ellen and I went with her mother) that none of the women wore skirts, not even to Emily and George's wedding, but we're like that. But most of it was due to David Cromer's re-structuring of the play and to Scott Parkinson, who played the Stage Manager dry and wry and brisk to the point of impatience. There were speeches where I was dimly aware that he was working so hard against the material that he was close to being annoying, but he never quite got there. When he played the minister who married Emily and George, he was electrifying.

And there's a scene near the end, which I won't describe because that would be telling, that just raised the hair at the back of my neck.

We laughed. We cried. And the play itself is going on the ever-lengthening list of Things I Will Read as soon as the WFA death-march is over--along with Iain Pears's new book, Stone's Fall, which I saw yesterday in the window of McNally Jackson.


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