As another blogger pointed out recently,there are over 3.5 billion web pages, more than 181 million blogs, over 10,000 digital versions of newspapers on the web and the average person sends and receives over 110 emails every day. But you found your way to this article.
Maybe it’s serendipity, but somehow we have connected here in my little town of Paradelle. And this piece is about another little town.
Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town premiered at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey in 1938. I saw it there in the late 1960s on a trip with my high school English class.
It is a play about the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Emily Webb and George Gibbs are children together in Act 1. They get married in Act 2 and in Act 3 Emily has died in childbirth and is looking back from beyond the grave with other dead citizens of Grover’s Corners. Emily doesn’t want to pass on and she revisits the happiest day of her life, which was her 12th birthday.
A lot of my classmates were disappointed in the play for the same reasons that it is considered radical in its time. Wilder decided not to use any scenery and almost no props. He wanted his play to be more like Greek tragedies without the distractions of sets and props. Those dead citizens of Grover’s Corners are like a Greek chorus.
I was in a production of Our Town. We had a ladder as our set.
After Princeton, the play moved to Boston, where it was a flop. But, two New York theater critics, Brooks Atkinson and Alexander Wolcott, convinced the director and producer to give it another try in New York. It did much better. Our Town won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
It is estimated that on average, Our Town is performed at least once every night somewhere in the world.
It connects with people. They see their town in that town. They see themselves in Emily
I think that once you’ve found a person that you’re very fond of… I mean a person who’s fond of you, too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character… Well, I think that’s just as important as college is, and even more so. That’s what I think.
George says this to Emily while they drink ice-cream sodas in Mr. Morgan’s drugstore. No drugstore set. No sodas. George passes on going to college for Emily and love. I wondered about that when I was 16 and watching it. I still wondered about it when I was in college and on the Our Town stage.
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?
Emily asks this question of the Stage Manager at the end of Act III after she has gone back to her twelfth birthday.
The Stage Manager says that humans do not realize life. The exception, he says might be “saints and poets.”
The play celebrates the value of everyday events, moments of ceremony and consequence, such as George and Emily’s wedding and Emily’s funeral. But the strange thing is that the characters do not “realize life” at every moment. Like almost all of us watching the play, we don’t seem to realize the wonder of what passes before our eyes in the play that is every day.
Emily tries when she gets a chance at a replay of her twelfth birthday to get her mother to really see her and not take her for granted. Emily realizes that she too did not pay enough attention. She missed a lot, did not appreciate her family or her town until she died.
She returns to the cemetery. She passes over to the realm of the dead.
Our Town covers about 13 years, but the play collapses those years into the span of one day. It opens with a scene at dawn and it ends at 11 P.M. It opens with Dr. Gibbs’s delivery of twins and closes with Emily’s funeral in the final scene. Even my high school self saw the symbolism of the cycle, the stages, the movement of our lives.
I found the play very sad to watch. Our life is one revolution of that big wheel, but the world continues to spin.
And somehow, you found this piece about Our Town on the World Wide Web. People already don’t seem to use that term – the World Wide Web – but I always liked it. The web that connects all of us with so many fibers and lines. It’s our town.