Our Town is a play by Thornton Wilder, released onto the world in 1938, and has been staged around our planet countless times for many decades hereafter.
It is also a parable and meditation on life, death and everything inbetween.
My approach here very much parallels the how of what Wilder has made here, where the minutiae of daily life, full of facts and figures and random events, neatly co-existing with the meta of the play knowing it is a play, leading to the greater, grander themes and philosophies being showcased.
To start at the beginning, which is a good place to start at, we have to digest what Our Town is about, level by level, in order to go from the smallness of here to the bigness of also here.
The basic story is of two young lovers. Peeking into snippets of them growing up next door to each other, sharing everything from homework chats through parallel windows to drinks after school to dreams of farm living, merging them together and making their joys and travails the spine of the play.
The basic story is of the town of Grover’s Corners, circa just after the turn of the century, and what its make-up of people and the thoughts and forms people build into society are, such religions and government. This snapshot of the vital statistics, and of the arcane natural facts of the region, means Our Town could be anyplace. Hence the universal appeal.
The basic story is of Stage Manager, who addresses the audience directly, giving his Godlike narration and involvement of all the souls in Grover’s Corners. His presence is sometimes just of a watching bystander, mutely letting the coming and goings pass by with no comment or judgement. Other times he actively tries to help dispense information, both fascinating and banal, to the audience, all to give us a fuller picture of this time and place he watches over.
The basic story is of how we all journey through life and into death, not completely realizing the simple joys of breakfasts, birthdays and banter. This concept permeates all through Our Town, with the Stage Manager dropping little nuggets of what the price of mortality is, and culminating in a final act fulfilling where all of us will eventually end up. The last few pages are devastating in impact and truth.
The basic story is of these four elements, and many more both large and small, swirling gently into a mixture potent with verisimilitude. Wilder very deftly changes from a moment of down home wisdom to one dealing with the fallout of death, all evoking the feeling that this is all well and good and normal.
And that is because, with all its trappings of philosophy and folksiness, Our Town can be readily applied to so many places, both real and imagined, where people exist. The longings for someone you are peachy keen on and the awkward hurt that causes is an universal trait. The wonderings of what simple pleasures will become almost forgotten memories when we enter the afterlife is a constant puzzle to all. Everyone has these thoughts, wherever they are in the cosmos, and Our Town encapsulates this all in a very tidy, uncluttered play.
Our Town shows us the power of God in all aspects of our lives. Whether we understand it or not, every second of us is part of the everything. Thornton Wilder knew this, and very carefully reminds us of this open secret.
Our Town is a play filled with words and sentences totaling about 112 pages. It exists as a fifty-five minute radio adaptation and a 1940 black and white movie. These facts make up part of the whole of Our Town.
The rest is made up of us.
…is currently reading The Brave and the Bold Volume 1 and 2 by Mark Waid, George Perez and Jerry Ordway.