On the surface Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning play "Our Town" waxes lyrical about the beauty and charm of life in a small town. But as you walk away from his words you are left pondering your very existence.
"A small-town ideal isn't what 'Our Town' is about at all. Instead, it's a dark play full of death and regret about lives never fully lived. That's its message for the era of suburban palaces and microwave lives," wrote Peter Applebome in The New York Times.
Applebome's words unearth the sub text of the play that the community theater group St. Thomas Playhouse has chosen to perform for their third annual Lenten series.
"I think he called it 'Our Town' because it could be any town," said the play's assistant director, Anna Johnson, and The St Thomas' production certainly incorporates a feel of our town.
The poster depicts Ketchum's main street circa 1903 (when the play is set) and the production's costume designer, Michele Jefferson, readily admits she's thrown some Western touches into the East Coast play "I'm actually staying away from the East Coast and moving slowly more and more towards our town. This production is a little more prairie orientated, I think. After all, the theme of the show is universal, anywhere America."
Performed in three acts, Daily Life, Love and Marriage, Life and Death, "Our Town" covers the lives and events of two families in a New Hampshire village from the year 1900 through 1913. Emily Webb (performed winsomely by WRHS senior Jessica Rice) and George Gibbs (played with buckets of charm by Dawson Howard) meet as teenagers and succumb to adolescent affections before maturing, marrying, and bearing a child of their own.
The acts are controlled by narration from The Stage Manager, (masterfully executed by Matt Gorby) a townsperson who is privy to both the past and the future. The constantly shifting verb tense throughout the play reveals that something strange is happening to time in the stereotyped lives of the actors on stage.
Essentially a story about everybody and their every day life it has a strong resonance for every audience. According to Andrew Alburger, the play's director and professional actor, "Emily's final monologue, where she's saying goodbye to all the little things she remembers, such as sundresses and coffee, the things we take for granted every day, is very powerful.
"I think this play teaches you how short life is and how easy it is to just go through it as if every day was the same as every other day," continues Andrew. "Wilder's saying that every day is special, every moment of every day should be appreciated."
This play matters today, nearly 60 years after it was written, not because it casts a rosy glow around small town life, something that we all can appreciate, but because it casts that glow around life itself.
Today will be gone as quickly as yesterday and as fast as tomorrow comes, it will be last year. In the words of another American icon, Ferris Buller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."