SALT LAKE CITY — Even though we have spent our lives being involved in theatre, and even though Our Town is the most produced play of all time, we both have carried this shameful secret hoping that it would never come up among our “theatre friends.” We’ve never read nor seen Our Town. We thought the premise of “small town life in early 20th century America” might be boring for two people who condense hour-long TV programs to 5 minutes with the aid of TiVo. Last night proved us way, way wrong.
Our Town examines daily life in the town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, in the first years of the 20th century. Thornton Wilder wrote the play in 1938, hoping “to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life.” This is a difficult task because if not done well, Our Town surely would be no more than a long, boring play about nothing. The Pioneer Theatre Company, however, was able to pull off Wilder’s hope wonderfully and left us feeling a desire to take joy in our day-to-day living.
Director Charles Morey’s production stayed true to the concept that Our Town should be done in a simple manner by focusing on words and actions rather than the spectacle of theatre. This does not mean, however, that it was not done artistically. The set design (Peter Harrison) was minimalist and humble and had a warm elegance in the material and tones. The lighting (Karl E. Haas) complemented the simple scenery and brought the town to life, giving warmth to the stage and the audience.
The acting and direction of the play deliberately exemplified Wilder’s desire to make the ordinary notable by the complete elimination of hand props, forcing the actors to mime everything. This was done so elaborately and skillfully that we believed the actors knew exactly what they were doing with each jar of peaches or pitcher of maple syrup. We as an audience had to immerse ourselves in the lives of the characters as they drew attention to every small action, leaving nothing too insignificant to be performed. The sound design (Joe Payne) accentuated this beautifully, giving nostalgic sounds to their day-to-day chores.
Though every actor did well, the part of the Stage Manager, played by Anderson Matthews, was a standout performance. He set the pace of the show and put the audience at ease with talent and style. There is nothing worse than watching a show and feeling nervous for the actors or the production, but there was none of that here. We knew we were in good hands, and his tour of Grover’s Corners was peaceful, nostalgic, and sentimental.
Though the message is certainly heavy-handed, it is valid and it is earned. We learned that this show is essential for our time, and this production of it should not be missed. The prospect of a 3-act play with 2 intermissions may be daunting, but this production never dragged, and was still able to take its time, slowing our modern lives down to a pleasant pace. We left the theater with a feeling of peace and refreshing calmness. It took us back to a time that we never even knew.
Questions to our Readers:
- What did YOU think of the show?
- What’s your opinion on “the most produced play of all time”?
- Why do you think it’s performed so frequently?