Sunday, February 11, 2007

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

"We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being."

That is my favorite quote from the classic play, Our Town by Thornton Wilder. On stage we see ordinary moments lived by ordinary people; events which slip by so swiftly that they are not savored or appreciated until death disrupts the routine.

The three acts portray three different passages in life: birth, love and marriage, and finally death. Act I starts out slowly, and the events of the small-town residents are SO mundane as to be almost boring. We see moms fixing breakfast, Dads off to work, children hurrying to school, the milk man delivering the milk. But as the 2nd and 3rd acts unfold, we look back on those same mundane activities with new eyes. Everyday connections are the very stuff of life, and they are precious, as summed up in this quote:

"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?"

Throughout the play, the hymn "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" is sung repeatedly. The words of the hymn encapsulate what I believe to be the theme of the play: human connections are precious. Take time to appreciate them.

Our Town was a Broadway success back in the late 1930's, at the time of its release. It earned Wilder a Pulitzer prize and remains a classic because of its timeless message. I first saw the play as a teenager and its poignancy left a deep impression on me. So it was with pleasure that I was able to see the play again, some 35 years later. I believe the pathos and the death of the young mother in childbirth was what struck me as a teen; now in middle age I relate more to the older mamas who discussed their unfulfilled dreams and wept as their children left the nest. That change in perspective is a shadow of the very thing that the play portrays: the transient nature of life.

Originally, the setting of the play was at the turn of the century~~ 1899-1912. In the performance that our family viewed today, the time frame was changed to 1951-1963. I thoroughly enjoyed the vintage clothing, especially the house dresses and little hats with veils that the ladies wore. It was a fun little departure from the original.

I am anxious to discuss this play in-depth with my teens, but I want to give them a little time to let it percolate before talking about it too much. It is the kind of a story that needs to be contemplated and mulled over.

Highly recommended!


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