Written by Evalyn Li
This year’s annual fall play, “Our Town” by Thorton Wilder, follows the different stages of Emily Webb and George Gibbs’s lives in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. While this play was written in 1937, it is considered a quintessential high school play that is still beloved because of its minimalism and reflection on the human experience.
Senior Viva Rose, who plays Webb, believes this play is unique in that it focuses on the grander scheme of life rather than its individual characters. “A lot of times in [contemporary] plays, there are specific character traits such as walks and talks, really distinct things about your character,” Rose said. “I think it’s interesting how there really isn’t that in this play because it’s not really what it’s about. It’s not about a specific character; it’s more about what people go through [in their lives].”
The play revolves around the lives of the people living in Grover’s Corner through the context of Webb and Gibbs’s marriage and eventually Webb’s death. “You are just living these people’s lives with them,” Rose said. “[The play is] very beautiful and when you see it, you understand parts of your own life in it.”
According to Theatre Director Jim Shelby, this annual fall production, while simple in nature, invokes self-curiosity and more introspectiveness within audience members. “The idea is to be aware of, appreciate and be grateful for little moments,” he said. “That’s asking a lot of us.”
Acting in conjunction with the less histrionic storyline, the stage employs only a few chairs in lieu of intricate set design. The bare setting allowed the theatre department to experiment with its newly installed lights, creating an atmosphere to the effect of scenery. “We have a beautiful little theater and I think the lighting, when it works, is really gorgeous,” Shelby said. “There’s a whole different feel of time and place depending on the light cues and for a play with no scenery, it’s a really complicated light show.” Actors also work without props, further contributing to the simple production.
Another unusual element of the script is the inclusion of a stage manager as a character. Every theatre production has a stage manager who handles behind-the-scenes roles and assists the production, but it is rare for the stage manager to be another integral part of the cast.
Senior Max Mahle—stage manager for “Our Town”—believes that the stage manager, acting as a narrator and removed from Grover’s Corners, propels the story without overshadowing the fabric of the entire town.
“Even the most quote-on-quote minor roles are deeply important because you have all these people setting the stage, literally,” Mahle said. “You have this person delivering the milk, this person talking about how the previous night was, this person who is really not having the best of nights and still getting over a drinking problem; you have all these components that fit together and the stage manager kind of ties them all together.”
Mahle pointed out that the stage manager often interjects comments consisting of minor details. “You hear these brief snippets and that’s what I do,” he said. “Most of my dialogue is minutia, but it all adds up to what the town is.”
While some aspects of the play appear to date “Our Town,” the themes of community and appreciation for even the most mundane moments are universal and the story of life may stir up emotion. Rose feels that there is some sadness to the play and recalls moments when she and her castmates wanted to cry on stage in practice. “It’s just a very touching play and I think it’s just relatable to everyone because it’s just about life and love and death,” she said. “Everyone can relate and that’s what I think makes the play so timeless.”
Mahle also says empathy is a primary reason that students will enjoy the play. “You can relate to at least one aspect of this play at one time or another,” he said. “Even if it’s just one, that moment will hit you where it really resonates.”
Rose hopes the community will appreciate this back-to-basics play. “It has a simple plot,” she said. “It focuses mostly on relationships and people.”
Shelby also believes that this play will just be as relevant and in some ways cutting-edge as it was when it first opened in the 1930s. “This is a tiny piece that I think will have an impact,” he said.
“Our Town” will open on Thursday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Studio Theatre (Little Theatre). Tickets are available in the Student Activities Center and at the door.