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Our Town is a three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. It is a character story about an average town's citizens in the early twentieth century as depicted through their everyday lives (particularly George Gibbs, a doctor's son, and Emily Webb, the daughter of the town's newspaper editor and George's future wife). Using metatheatrical devices, Wilder sets the play in a 1930s theater. He uses the actions of the Stage Manager to create the town of Grover's Corners for the audience. Scenes from its history between the years of 1901 and 1913 play out.

Wilder wrote the play while in his 30s. In June 1937, he lived in the MacDowell Colonymarker in Peterborough, New Hampshiremarker, one of the many locations where he worked on the play. During a visit to Zurich in September 1937, he drafted the entire third act in one day after a long evening walk in the rain with a friend.

Our Town was first performed at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jerseymarker on 22 January 1938. It next opened at the Wilbur Theater in Boston, Massachusettsmarker on 25 January 1938. Its New York Citymarker debut was on 4 February 1938 at Henry Miller's Theatre, and later moved to the Morosco Theatre. The play was produced and directed by Jed Harris. Wilder received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938 for the work.In 1947, the Soviet Unionmarker banned Our Town and another Wilder play, The Skin of Our Teeth, for making family life seem "too attractive."

Background

The play is set in the fictional community of Grover's Corners, modeled upon several New Hampshiremarker towns in the Mount Monadnockmarker region: Jaffreymarker, Peterboroughmarker, Dublinmarker, and others. However, the coordinates of Grover's Corners are given as 42°40′ north latitude and 70°37′ west longitude, which would actually put it very close to Rockport, Massachusettsmarker.

Our Town's narrator, the Stage Manager, is completely aware of his relationship with the audience, leaving him free to break the fourth wall and address them directly. According to the script, the play is to be performed with little scenery, no set and only three props. Wilder was dissatisfied with the theatre of his time: "I felt that something had gone wrong....I began to feel that the theatre was not only inadequate, it was evasive." His answer was to have the characters mime the objects with which they interact. Their surroundings are created only with chairs, tables, and ladders. (e.g., The scene in which Emily and George share homework answers through their windows is performed with the two actors standing atop separate ladders to represent their neighboring houses' second-story windows.) Says Wilder, "Our claim, our hope, our despair are in the mind – not in things, not in 'scenery.'"

Beginning with daily life's routines and necessities, the play reveals an American family's intimate and habitual personal lives. The last two acts gradually represent life's deeper aspects, mostly through George Gibbs and Emily Webb, whose unspoken mutual affection as children blossoms into love, marriage, and death. Act 2 celebrates George and Emily's wedding. The characters analyze the need for human companionship while questioning the institution of marriage. The last-minute apprehension that both Emily and George experience about being married represents a universal theme of young people wanting to grow up quickly while still craving childhood's relative certainty and security.

In the final act, Emily Webb's ghost time travels back to her 12th birthday after dying in childbirth. Through this, Wilder conveys life's fundamental meaning and significance, dwelling upon daily life and routine. Also, the author's concept of pursuing life rather than just living it is shown by Mrs. Gibbs's desire to visit France. Later, she obtains the necessary money to go, but she chooses to leave it to George and Emily; this implies either that she, like Emily, failed to appreciate life to its fullest, or that she instead came to enjoy its simple pleasures enough that she no longer needed to go to France.

Our Town attempts to express the New England town of the early twentieth century and how change is beginning to affect it. Ongoing industrialization and immigration are alluded to with mentions of "Polish Town." The Stage Manager stresses the famous line, "This is the way we were." Indeed, when Our Town was staged in the late 1930s and '40s, many recognized from personal experience the life and times it depicted. Today's audiences are more likely to interpret the play as a story of times gone by, although the daily routines, habits, and rituals in it still exist and help bind our society through a mutual commonality that affect us in a personal way.

Characters

Main characters:
  • Stage Manager
  • Mrs. Myrtle Webb
  • Mr. Charles Webb
  • George Gibbs
  • Emily Webb
  • Mrs. Julia Gibbs
  • Dr. Frank F. Gibbs


Secondary characters

  • Simon Stimson
  • Joe Crowell
  • Howie Newsome
  • Rebecca Gibbs
  • Wally Webb
  • Professor Willard
  • Woman in Auditorium
  • Man in Auditorium
  • Another Woman in Auditorium
  • Si Crowell


  • Mrs. Soames
  • Constable Warren
  • Three Baseball Players
  • Joe Stoddard
  • Sam Craig
  • Dead Man
  • Dead Woman
  • Mr. Carter
  • Farmer McCarthy


Plot

The Stage Manager guides the play, taking questions from the audience, describing the locations (as scenery is sparse) and making key observations about the world the play creates. The Stage Manager also plays several small but important roles, such as a preacher, the owner of a soda shop, and an old woman.

Act I: Daily Life

The play begins with the Stage Manager describing the town. After this come scenes in the Gibbs' and Webbs' homes, where both families prepare their children for school. The Stage Manager then guides the audience through a day in the life of the town. The local milkman, Howie Newsome, reappears during every morning scene—once each in Acts I, II, and III—highlighting the continuity of life in Grover's Corners and in the general human experience. The Stage Manager also has Professor Willard, a long-winded local historian, and Mr. Webb, editor of the Grover's Corners Sentinel, talk about the town. During this scene, Editor Webb answers some questions from actors who have been planted in the audience. After a scene within the Congregational Church at a choir practice, Mrs. Webb, Mrs. Gibbs, and Mrs. Soames discuss Simon Stimson. Stimson is the church organist with a reputation for being a drunkard. Due to his non-conforming nature, he is often the subject of the town's gossip. Although a relatively small role, Stimson is Wilder's voice for some of his darker views of humanity. The act also includes a scene in which George and Emily discuss school. Emily's agreement to help George with his schoolwork foreshadows a future relationship. Also on the ladder, George's younger sister Rebecca, talks about the moon and how it might get nearer and nearer until there's a "big 'splosion", showing George's sister is a curious girl. The subject of "daily life" addressed throughout this act stereotypes the average "American family."

Act II: Love and Marriage

Three years pass and George and Emily announce their plans to wed. The day is filled with stress, topped off by George's visit to the Webb family home. There, he meets Mr. Webb, who tells George of his own father's advice to him: to treat his wife like property and never to respect her needs. Mr. Webb then says that he did the exact opposite of his father's advice and has been happy since. Mr. Webb concludes by telling George not to take advice from anyone on matters of that nature. Here, the Stage Manager interrupts the scene and takes the audience back a year, to the end of Emily and George's junior year. Over an ice cream soda, Emily confronts George about his pride, and they discuss the future and their love for each other. The wedding follows, where George, in a fit of nervousness, tells his mother that he is not ready to marry. Emily, too, tells her father of her anxiety about marriage, saying she wishes she were dead. However, they both regain their composure, and George proceeds down the aisle to be wed by the preacher (played by the Stage Manager). Mrs Soames is very pleased with the wedding, as she purrs, "Isn't this the loveliest wedding..." The text is interrupted by the individual thoughts, a modern twist to Shakespeare's soliloquy.

Act III: Death and Eternity

The setting for Act III is a cemetery near Grover's Corners. The Stage Manager opens this act with a lengthy soliloquy emphasizing eternity, expressed by the survival of Emily's second child after Emily herself dies giving birth. Emily's coffin is brought to the cemetery and buried, and she emerges from the mourners as a spirit. She joins her relatives and fellow townsfolk in the graveyard, including her mother-in-law, Mrs Gibbs, Simon Stimson, Mrs Soames, Wally Webb and Mr Carter. The dead tell her that they must wait and forget the life that came before, but Emily refuses. Soon Emily's ghost learns it is possible to re-live parts of her past life. Despite the warnings of Simon, Mrs Soames, and Mrs Gibbs, Emily decides to return to Earth to re-live just one day, her 12th birthday, and realizes just how much life should be valued, "every, every minute." Poignantly, she asks the Stage Manager whether anyone realizes life while they live it, and is told, "No. Saints and poets, maybe. They do some." She then returns to her grave. The Stage Manager concludes the play with a soliloquy and wishes the audience a good night.

Awards and nominations

Awards


Adaptions

The play has been adapted numerous times:

References

Further reading



External links




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