Los Angeles, California – Our Town was my high school play. It may have been everyone’s high school play. Thorton Wilder’s classic tale of life in Grovers Corners is a parable set in small town America at the turn of the century. Wilder means for us to pause and consider the meaning of life and death.
Whatever significance it had when I saw it in the ’40s, today the play has yet another rather unsettling message. In Grovers Corners, mother cooks and cleans, and feeds the chickens; father makes the decisions; the kids respect and listen. Knowing nothing about sex and life, they innocently fall in love, marry young and, in the third act, experience death and visit the graveyard.
In our age of lost innocence — of a society intent in constant communication — the kids are twittering, text-messaging…every small-town kid is intimately connected through the computer with the wide world as their parents are FaceBooking, walking their chores connected to earphones talking to “someone,” oblivious to the landscape…all of which doesn’t minimize the importance of the play. We are poignantly reminded of the loss of “thinking time” as we rush madly through life, jamming activity into every moment.
If you have never seen it, Our Town should be part of everyone’s literary education. The Actor’s Gang, a fine ensemble which has brought L.A. many important and challenging works, gives you a chance to spend a few hours quietly — cellphones off — with the simple folk of Grovers Corner, to once again consider the meaning of the simple life which, like the dinosaurs, has disappeared.
The acts: Childhood, Marriage, Death — described to us by the Stage Manager on an unadorned stage: only a couple of chairs, two ladders and, most effective on this production, the third act in the graveyard, all of the dead sitting quietly on swings, talking about the life which needs to be forgotten and burned away to permit this final, more peaceful eternity.
We follow Emily and George as they fall innocently in love, marry, and when Emily dies in childbirth, she is given a chance to return to the living world for a day, realizing that she’s never stopped to consider the wonder of it all, and she ultimately returns to wait for a calmer eternity.
Why The Actor’s Gang chose to cast the two “archetypal mothers” with young women no older than their daughters is a puzzlement, as is the acrobatic scene of the younger sister doing a Cirque du Soleil in the midst of the major love scene and disturbs the focus of the act.
But all in all, their Our Town is enormously audience-pleasing with shout-outs, applause, and much laughter. If you’ve never seen Our Town, you must. Scott Harris as Professor Willard received a particularly warm reception. Vanessa Mizzone plays Emily; Chris Shultz plays George.
This 1938 play won the Pulizer Prize and is one of America’s stage treasures. Performances continue until June 6th at the Culver City Theater.
Interesting to compare this moving performance with the ’40s film with William Holden and Martha Scott.