Since I'm not doing much of the actual reading for the Great Books list, I thought I'd at least dip my toe back into the 'Drama 100' list and read some plays. To recap for those joining the broadcast midstream, there is a book called 'Drama 100' which ranks the best stage plays 1-100. Last year I thought that I'd be able to get through about one a month and that would serve as a supplement to the Great Books list. That schedule proved impossible to hit so I thought I would do some here and there.
Next month, the Great Books list gives us 'Moby Dick' and that will put me back on track (hopefully for the next five plus years).
Thornton Wilder's 'Our Town' is unique. It's called the 'most performed play in America' so you may be familiar with it already, but just in case you aren't, here is what you need to know. The play is performed with a fairly bare stage. There is no set. Only furniture that is moved around to suggest various places. The story is narrated by the Stage Manager who constantly breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience.
The setting is a small New England town in the early part of the 20th century. It's a good town and most (but notably not all) are very happy with it. The first act introduces us to the town and some of its people, most notably the couple we will follow throughout Emily and George. They are about the same age and have literally grown up next door to each other.
The second act is titled 'Love and Marriage' and it shows the their wedding day. We get an extended flashback to the time when they first realized they were in love. The entire thing is sweet and authentic. The third act deals with death and has a poignant message about living each day. The dead can't help but wonder how the living fail to see each day as a miracle. The message is interesting and well told.
It's not hard to see why the play is widely done. The staging is simple and inexpensive. The cast can be fairly small or fairly large, depending on what size you want. The story is well done and has moments of profundity. Their are a few roles that budding actors can really get their teeth into. This is a staple of American high schools.
I studied this play while I was in high school and haven't read it since. Back then I read it (at least once) and saw it performed both professionally and by friends in school. I remembered liking it and that's still true. My enduring memory was of the bare set. I didn't remember much of the story at all. I was pleasantly surprised, especially with the depth of the third act. This is a fine, fine play.