Wilder called Our Town his favorite out of all his works, but complained that it was rarely done right, insisting that it “should be performed without sentimentality or ponderousness–simply, dryly, and sincerely.” -Wikipedia
Our Town is an American classic. It’s been produced a metric bazillion times by… I dunno, like a few hundred theaters? It’s also one of the most misunderstood shows by directors and producers.
Not too long ago, I was cast in a local production of Our Town. This play serves one simple purpose: to show an audience a picture of life, from start to finish. We see in it joy and sorrow, the exciting and the mundane, and everything big, small, and in between. What makes it unique and special is that its author, Thornton Wilder, intentionally forwent many of the staples of theater to create this picture. And that’s really where so many productions of this show get it wrong. They try to shoehorn the script into a more traditional style of theater, and in doing so trample all over what makes it such a brilliant show.
I’ll explain how, but I warn you, there are spoilers ahead (Yes, I’m giving you a spoiler warning for a 78-year-old story. What are you gonna do about it?):