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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.
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.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a penchant for time travel stories. So, it is with some interest that I find that the old-fashioned TV networks are lining some up time travel TV for the new seasons.
NBC has Timeless, billed as a thriller about some misfits time traveling to try to stop a criminal mastermind.
On ABC, we’ll get Time After Time which has the 19th century sci-fi author H.G. Wells (who wrote The Time Machine and started a lot of this) searching for an escaped Jack the Ripper who has traveled to modern-day New York using Wells’ time machine.
If that sounds familiar, it is because it is based on a 1979 movie also called Time After Time . That’s a film I really enjoyed. Jack the Ripper, a serial killer of the 19th century, turns out to be a doctor acquaintance of Wells who evades the police by using Wells’ time machine. However, Dr. Stevenson may have escaped to the future, but because he does not have the “non-return” key, the time machine automatically returns to 1893. H.G. Wells uses it to pursue Stevenson to 1979, where the machine has ended up on display at a museum in San Francisco.
Wells, the real life author now fictionalized, is shocked and disappointed by the future. His predictions had been of an enlightened socialist utopia. He finds a future of war, crime and bloodshed that is better suited to Jack the Ripper.
On FOX, they are going in a comic direction with the mid-season show Making History which will have buddies who jump in time back to historical events, such as the Revolutionary War.
Minus the comedy, that last one reminds me of The Time Tunnel show that was on in 1966–1967. It only lasted one season, but that was in a time when a season ran for 30 episodes. The show was inspired by the 1964 movie The Time Travelers.
I loved that show in 1967. The special effects look pretty poor by today’s standards, but the plot was also about two top-secret U.S. government time travelers who move from one period in history to another. Episodes were set in the past and future. In the series, the two travelers literally jumped into the “tunnel” before the technology was really ready and so become lost in time. I figured back then that I was learning some history when I watched the show. It also was the first time I thought about that paradox of what would happen if you went back in time and changed anything.
UPDATE: I don’t know if the series currently reruns on any channels, but it is available from Amazon. A reader emailed me to say that the series is available, though in an odd format, for free on YouTube. I watched a few episodes today. It is pretty much as I remember it, and about as dated as any memories I have of 1966. Corny, with tacky effects and I can completely see why it appealed to my 13 year-old brain.
Tiffany Shlain is referring to the Internet when she quotes naturalist John Muir: “When you tug at a single thing in the universe, you find it’s attached to everything else.”
Shlain is a filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards (the “Oscars of the Internet”), She helped popularize the practice of the “tech shabbat” with her own family by setting 24 unplugged hours each week.
Obviously, she doesn’t hate the the Net, but she wants some restraint in our technology-enhanced lives. She sees the Net as our global brain and wants us to take care of it better.
Listen to Tiffany Shlain talking about “Growing Up the Internet” on www.onbeing.org
- Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology
- Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks
- And here’s an odd one – In The Tribe, she looks at the most successful doll on the planet – Barbie – with archival footage, graphics, animation, Barbie dioramas and slam poetry to answer: What does it mean to be an American Jew today? And what does it mean to be a member of any tribe in the 21st Century?
I’m planning a road trip for next month and a vacation for June and in my notebook I found a list of travel films that I have learned lessons from watching. Queue them all up and you have a good on-the-road film festival and prep session while you look at maps and guides and make reservations.
The Wizard of Oz – Pick your travel companions with care. Don’t be concerned with food or lodgings. Do be concerned with witches and flying monkeys. No matter how good the trip, it should also be good to be back home again.
National Lampoon’s Vacation – A road trip with family, as child or parent, will present many lessons. As with life and school, you will fail at some.
Before Sunrise – You should take a serendipitous journey alone. You should meet a beautiful/handsome person along the way. If you go back there at sunset or midnight, don’t expect things to be as good as they were before.
Up – Take that trip you and your spouse have been talking about for years now before it’s too late.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Take a trip with your Dad. Or son, depending on your age and point of view. (What film could be the Mom or daughter version?)
Broken Flowers – Go on one cross-country search for old girl/boyfriends in search of answers. (Not connected to any 12-step program)
The Darjeeling Limited – Go to an exotic place filled with things that you have never seen and smells that tell you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Be nice to fellow travelers. You never know.
The Lord of the Rings – Undertake an adventure trip full of possible peril. Once. After that, there is no need for you to do it again. You have nothing to prove. Your home is quite comfortable and there are so many books unread and films unseen.
Lost In Translation – Be prepared to be a stranger in a strange land. Try to have Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson around just in case.
I’m sure you have other films to add to the festival list. How about if you make a comment and give us a film and a short reason for its inclusion.
Things are blooming in Paradelle, so I have started recording them in my garden notebook. Have you noticed any changes in when things sprout or bloom in your neighborhood? Maybe flowers tend to bloom a little earlier in the year or birds that used to migrate are hanging around your yard through the winter?
In some ways my garden notebook is a nature notebook as I find myself also recording first and last frosts, snow storms, the appearances of birds, insects and wildlife. Some of those things I report here, both seriously and also as a kind of weather lore. My posts about predicting the weather based on signs in nature seem to get a lot of hits, so I am not alone in my interest, scientific or not.
Most people have never heard of phenology. but if you have ever paid attention to the timing of natural events, like blooming flowers and migrating animals, you have been practicing this -ology. Phenology is the study of the timing of recurring plant and animal life cycle events.
If you want to make those observation to be more “official,” you can become a citizen scientist by connecting with groups like Nature’s Notebook. It is an online project sponsored by the USA National Phenology Network. Americans can practice phenology in their own habitat and share their observations with other members and have their data shared with scientists who will use the data for research and decision-making.
It saddens me how disconnected people are to the natural world of plants, animals, the earth and sky. s a lifelong teacher, it really saddens me to see how disconnected kids become as they get older. The interest is always there in very young children, so it is something that is lost.
We may not all be as observant as Sara Schaffer of Nature’s Notebook who suggests that we notice the “slightest blush on a maple leaf that foreshadows the coming fall” or the “new, more vibrant feathers warblers put on days before mating.”
Do you see the appearance of the first robin on your lawn as a sign that spring has arrived? I grew up hearing and believing that. But I have observed and recorded robins every winter. Once I saw four of them sitting on my fence in a February snowstorm. Robins as indicators of spring is a good example of weather lore.
Most robins do migrate south, but some are probably still around your neighborhood all winter – no doubt better protected in the woods than on your bare lawn. The robins that do migrate to the South in the fall, return in the spring, so then we see many more of them on that soggy lawn and field in search of food.
Geese flying south in Paradelle is a daily occurrence. They fly from the reservoir south to a pond. They never migrate and leave any more. What does that indicate? Perhaps some of it is climate change, but it is also the prime water and grass we provide them in parks, golf courses, school fields and corporate settings. Why leave?
Though thinking a captive groundhog can predict the end of winter is certainly weather lore, paying attention to events like true bird migrations can help us understand long-term trends and predict future events. That is why many observers may be reporting small changes that can help more accurately predict the long-term impacts of climate change and shorter-term events in the near future.
And observing when the smell of smoke from fireplaces changes to the smell of barbecue smoke is a definite indicator of suburban seasonal change!