|Alden Loveshade's Reviews
Does Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" refer to the home town of the State Manager and the
characters, or does it refer to the home of the audience? I believe it's both.
The play was written in 1938. America was still in the Depression and people longed for an
escape. In the opinion of many film historians, black and white movie-making was at its peak,
and its escapes were many. Viewers could see "poor" families who owned two-story houses
and had servants; action-adventures heroes who survived cliff-hangers every Saturday; great
romances filled with more passion than you could ever see anywhere else; and wartime
explosions and gun battles which were still something to flock to on the big screen and avoid in
real life. But "Our Town" was none of that. Like the Andy Hardy movie series that began before
it and Archie who in comic books was to follow it, ironically in December 1941, it portrayed
small town Americana. It was a return to the simple, safe, hometown America that many
remembered and no one ever really lived in.
But "Our Town" was also very different. The "realism" that began on stage and then
permeated the movie theaters after the experimental days of the pre-Depression wasn't there.
The fourth wall had been created, and now was destroyed. Here was a Stage Manager who
spoke directly to the audience, skipped through time, told us what had already happened when
it would occur years after the scene we were watching, and even brought the dead back to life,
at least for a moment.
The form was odd for its time (although in some ways not so different from the presentational,
minimal set theatre of Shakespeare's days.) Had the subject matter been two strange people
waiting for a no-show Godot, it might have died in obscurity, perhaps to be resurrected years
later. But here were characters everyone knew or imagined they did, at least if they were
fourth generation Caucasian. Everyone's mother was there, and father, and brother and sister,
and milkman and newsboy and boyfriend and girlfriend and husband and wife. In fact, they
could see themselves. The characters represented the past everyone imagined they had.
The limited suspension of disbelief required in the first two acts and oddly in the third act still
made real one important message: it is the small things in life, the trivial, everyday things that
are really important. Ironically, Wilder seemed to argue against his own thesis, showing in the
third act how the dead would forget the trivialities and even major events of life and move on.
But as we saw when one character relived and then couldn't stand to relive her 12th birthday,
the important things in life are a mother's hug, milk delivered to your door, and "food and
coffee--and new-ironed dresses and hot baths..." (Act III). As the poet and wise man Solomon
said in the biblical book of "Ecclesiastes," power and great wealth are nothing but "vanity" and
meaningless, and the important thing is to "eat, drink and be merry."
I believe the theme of the play is best stated in that same scene in Our Town, when the dead
character in wonder proclaims, "oh earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you" (ibid).
Anyone except "saints and poets maybe" (ibid).
The theme is also reflected in one of the most famous lines spoken in one of the most famous
movies of the very next year, the 1939 "Wizard of Oz." After Dorothy flew from her grey home
to drop into a wonderful world of color, she returned to find her family, life and farm had really
been colorful all along. She learned, and we all felt, that indeed "there's no place like home."
Copyright © 2000 to 2007 by The Loveshade Family.
Thornton Wilder wrote the play Our Town in 1938. In this play, which is considered an
American classic, the character of the Stage Manager introduces the scenes, which show us
life in the fictional Grover's Corners, New Hampshire.
I believe I wrote this for a university theatre class at the very end of the 20th century. It
couldn't have been written any later than January of 2000.