our town

A high school production of Our Town

Our Town is a 1938 three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover’s Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.

As far as I can recall, it was the first play I saw on a professional stage. At some point during my junior high or high school years, we took a class trip to see it performed at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. Serendipitously, that is also where it was first staged in 1938.

It went on to Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It remains popular today and revivals of it are frequent, especially with student productions.

One reason for its performance popularity is the deliberate minimalism of the staging and sets. Wilder sets the play in the theater where it is being performed. It is often staged with only a few tables, chairs, benches and ladders on the stage. The audience is asked to see someone on a ladder as being at a second floor window, for example.

A main character is the stage manager who directly addresses the audience. My recollection of my first impression in seeing the play (totally unprepared by my teacher) is that I was disappointed. What a lousy set! It looks like a rehearsal. Not even as nice as some of our school productions.

And the stage manager seemed like a narrator (We had those in school plays.) but he would bring in guest lecturers, answer questions from the audience (Were those real audience members or shills?) and even filled in playing some other roles. (Couldn’t they hire a few more actors?).

Most of the time the actors didn’t have props and would mime actions. (They couldn’t afford some ordinary household items?)

I did like that there were some characters our age. George Gibbs meets his neighbor Emily Webb outside the gate of her house after school. Some romance brewing. Emily confers with her mom. Then the Stage Manager thanks them and dismisses Emily and her mom.

The Stage Manager tells us that a time capsule will be placed in the foundation of a new bank building in town. He wants to put a copy of Our Town into the time capsule.

By Act II, it is three years later and George and Emily are getting married.

Act III is what I remembered best. I went back to the play to fill in the blank spaces. It is only nine years later, but we are in a cemetery outside town. Emily has died in childbirth. This is a burial.

The dead who inhabit the cemetery were sitting in chairs at the front of the stage and they speak. Death has made them pretty much indifferent to the living. Emily isn’t ready to join them. She misses life and wants to go back.

The Stage Manager can do whatever and he allows Emily to go back and relive her twelfth birthday.

As both 12 year old Emily and dead Emily walks through that day, she sees it differently. She appreciates the beauty and preciousness of the everyday and realizes that her parents and the other living characters do not appreciate it at all.

She goes back to the cemetery where George is at her tomb. She is sad because she knows that the living do not understand life. She asks the Stage Manager if anyone understands the value of life while they live it. “No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some, ” he tells her.

Emily returns to her grave.  The Stage Manager concludes the play, wishes the audience a good night, and the play ends.

There is a 1940 film version of Our Town.  It stars William Holden and Martha Scott. It was free to watch on Amazon if you have a Prime membership. Although it follows most of the play, it takes some big liberties. One big change is that it has a happy Hollywood ending.

Thornton Wilder was unhappy with that 1940 film (and also a 1957 musical versions of the play). Before his death, in 1975, Wilder worked to have a definitive version of his play. That version was broadcast on NBC in 1977, with Holbrook, Ned Beatty, Sada Thompson, John Houseman, Glynnis O’Connor and Robby Benson. The Wilder estate was so satisfied that they decided there was no need to permit another television version of the play, but they did make an exception for a PBS production in 1989.

We just don’t understand. Prove the Stage Manager wrong.

 

 

modelTford

The Ford Model T was the first affordable automobile. Known as the “Tin Lizzie,” it changed the way Americans live, work and travel.

Henry Ford’s revolutionary advancements in assembly-line automobile manufacturing is what made the Model T the first car to be affordable for a majority of Americans. Car ownership became a reality for average American workers, not just the wealthy.

More than 15 million Model Ts were built in Detroit and Highland Park, Michigan. They were also assembled at a Ford plant in Manchester, England, and at plants in continental Europe.

It had a 2.9-liter, 20-horsepower engine and could travel at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. It had a 10-gallon fuel tank and could run on kerosene, petrol/gasoline, or ethanol.

But the thing I only learned recently is that it couldn’t drive uphill if the tank was low on fuel. Why? Because there was no fuel pump. The workaround in this design flaw was that people would drive uphill in reverse, thereby using gravity to get the fuel to the engine. I imagine lines of cars at hills going in reverse. That would certainly be a strange – and dangerous – sight to see today. But I like their ingenuity.

modelT-hill

The Model T cost $850 in 1909, and as efficiency in production increased, the price dropped, so that by 1927, you could get one for $290. The last Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927.

Photographing the South Beach Full Moon

The first full moon of this spring season came early enough after the March 2016 equinox to allow for a fourth full moon to take place just prior to the summer solstice.

We had the equinox on March 20 and full moons on March 23, April 22, May 21 and now on June 20 at 11:02 Universal Time. The summer solstice will follow at 23:34 Universal Time. (That is 7:30 pm EDT – use the worldtimeserver.com to convert time zones.)

Last year, we had a father’s day solstice that got me thinking about childhood summer and father memories. Thinking about summer and full moons, sends my thoughts to nights on the beach when the full moon over the ocean looks bigger and more dramatic and gives a soft light to the beach.

As we slide into summer in the Northern Hemisphere,  the solstice (from the Latin solstitium, from sol-sun) and stitium- to stop), it’s a good day to stop ourselves and consider the season past and one ahead.

We now know that the Sun does not stop on the two solstices but simply crosses a path and “shifts” position at a moment in time. Do you observe the position of the Sun during the year? You probably don’t in as careful a way as I do or astronomers, but perhaps you notice that the Sun is higher in the sky throughout the day now. Have you ever noticed in the morning that the sun rises in relation to your home and your windows from different places in winter and summer? From my usual morning coffee spot in the family room, the Sun is shining right on me in winter, but come summer it’s streaming in a window on the other side of the room.

On the summer solstice tomorrow, the Sun is directly overhead at its most northern point at “high-noon.” There will be more sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere on this day than any other – even if it is cloudy or raining in your little corner of the world.

Why isn’t this also the hottest time of year? The atmosphere, land, and oceans are still cool from winter and spring and absorbing part of the incoming heat and energy from the Sun. But as the land and, especially, the oceans release that stored heat later in the summer, that will bring us our hottest days and nights.

Synchronicity – that concept that was first explained by psychiatrist Carl Jung – visited me recently. I keep a small notebook of ideas for poems. Some entries are just titles.  Last week, I was paging through them and came across “The Museum of Broken Relationships” which I scribbled on a page back in 2014. Good title, I thought.

I went to my online collection of ronka poems that I keep adding to, and wrote a poem to that title:

The suggested donation to enter is expensive.

Each of us has our own gallery.

Mine is dark. Poorly lit. That’s intentional.

Letters, drawings, paintings, postcards, photographs – many poems.

It’s okay to touch. No one cares.

I always add an image to the poems and did a search on that title and was surprised to find that such a museum opened this month in Los Angeles.

Carl Jung defined synchronicity as the idea that holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related.  I’m not sure of the meaning here, but it does seem meaningful. Like interpreting a dream, I started considering possibilities. I was recently sifting through a box of old letter and emails I had saved. Some could be considered “love letters.” As someone married for three decades, I wondered to myself the wisdom or lack thereof in keeping these combustible pieces of paper.

Maybe I can donate them.

The actual Museum of Broken Relationships grew from a traveling exhibition revolving around the concept of failed relationships and their remaining ruins.

It started in Croatia in 2006 with an artist ex-couple and became a permanent museum in Zagreb in 2010. This new Los Angeles location opened this month.

You can donate an exhibit along with a title, the duration/dates of the relationship, city/country of origin and an accompanying story. Your personal information remains with the staff, so your exhibit is anonymous. (they do need your full name and a signature to show that you give consent to unlimited display and potential reproduction and publication of your donation on all museum material.)

Our collection has no restrictions. It might be a single object – a letter, a photograph – or several items, or a video or audio. I’ve got a mix tape somewhere that chronicles one relationship’s end with songs and narration.  It might be therapeutic to write the stories of failed relationships.

Chances are the museum will accept your donation as part of their, but whether it ends up in an exhibit, traveling displays, catalogues or other museum publications is not guaranteed.

We all have small museums, virtual and actual, of broken relationships. Sometimes we hang on to the exhibits even though seeing them is unpleasant. Reminders are important. Lessons learned. Roads taken.


Don’t want to donate to the actual museum? Consider leaving an exhibit as a comment here. Tell us the object(s) and give us the story.

16

Today, June 16, is Bloomsday. At least it is celebrated as such by fans of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. It is the day that Leopold Bloom walks around Dublin for the 732 pages of that radical and now classic novel.

It is a novel that changed literature. I tried to read it. Several times. As an English major in college, I had to say I had read it. I had to say that it was extraordinary.

But that’s me. People will go to Sweny’s Pharmacy to buy lemon soap, like Bloom did in the novel. Fans will be making many stops in Dublin, some in period costume. They will do public readings. They will definitely be going to the pubs.

james_joyceSome Bloomsday readings focus on the most dense parts of the book. Some will focus on the dirtiest parts. After all, the dirty/profane/obscene parts are what made it subject of a landmark American obscenity case.

It’s not a new celebration. In a letter written in 1924 by James Joyce, he said “There is a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”

The Bailey pub Dublin’s city center has the door from No. 7 Eccles Street that was Leopold Bloom’s front door.

There are celebrations all over the world.

You might have picked up on allusions to the day in pop culture. The Mel Brooks’ play/film featured the character Leo Bloom. In the musical version, Leo asks, “When will it be Bloom’s day?”  When Leo and Max meet, the office’s calendar shows the date as June 16.

Irish rockers, U2, have a song “Breathe” which refers to events taking place on a modern-day 16 June Bloomsday. It’s not a tale from the novel, but on the album where it first appeared (No Line on the Horizon) Bono uses several characters in the songs and the narrator within “Breathe” is one who is able to find redemption – something Mr. Bloom is concerned with in the novel.

monroe-blog-2

I still have my copy of Ulysses. Maybe, like Marilyn, maybe I’ll take another shot at the novel this summer.

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