Sunday Selections: Our Town
Warning! This article contains spoilers!
For this week’s edition of Sunday Selections, I’m going with Our Town by Thornton Wilder.
I first read Our Town in high school. What we focused our discussion on a lot was the universal themes of this play. In fact, I think my teacher even said this play could be set in any time period in any country and people could relate to it. (I could be remembering that wrong.). But I think this that statement is correct.
The play delves into daily life, even the hum drum stuff—or is it hum drum? Sometimes it can feel that way, but we miss a lot of things once they’re gone. The play’s dire message, which becomes clear in the end, is that you should appreciate every aspect of life—including the little things, which are just as important as the epic moments in life we face.
Of course the pivotal aspect of this play comes in the final act when we’re shown what every person will experience: death. To me, the issue is not so much fearing death, it’s fearing whether we’ll face regret or sorrow over the things we didn’t or couldn’t do in life. This is a powerful blow to the audience. The plays most iconic moment, and one that always gets me chocked up, is when the recently deceased Emily asks the Stage Manager whether or not people truly appreciate every aspect of life while they live it, and he simply replies “No”. But then follows up with saying that maybe the saints and the poets do, “some”. I personally think “saints” or “poets” can also be extended to mean anyone who’s spiritual or artistic, though I could be wrong. But I don’t believe that people who don’t fall into these categories are incapable of appreciating life due to being cold or apathetic—if they’re incapable at all. And remember, the Stage Manager says the saints and poets appreciate life maybe.
I think that most people, if not everyone, just don’t know any better. Or maybe life has given them a bad hand and they understand perfectly well how great something is, but it’s beyond their reach. Whatever reason, the ignorance that most people face is nothing to be ashamed of. But what’s the reason for writing a play that makes us face these grim realities? Well, if most people are incapable, for whatever reason, of appreciating every aspect of life, we can at least appreciate some of it, if not a lot. Plays like this teach us to do so.
Aside from the plot, there are many other reasons this play strikes a chord with people. It’s interesting to note the reason for the lack of set and props. Apparently Wilder made this choice as a direct reaction to theater at the time. He felt theater was overdoing sets, costumes, etc. I would agree, less is more, at least sometimes. I think the lack of a set and props also serves a dual purpose: it makes the play simplistic, which is the point.
Oh, and here’s a fun fact. Did you know that a movie adaptation had a… shall we say, Hollywood ending? I was shocked to learn Wilder wanted this. He basically said it would be hard on the audience if Emily died, but it was OK in theater. I would argue that film has changed a great deal since the golden age of movies, although we still have too many Hollywood endings in my opinion. I wonder if his opinion on this issue would be the same today.
Nevertheless, this play is a classic. Oh, and it’s also a great deal cheaper to produce than many other plays. That’s always good. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯