One of the most famous plays of the 20th Century is Thornton Wilder’s Pulitizer-prize winning play, “Our Town.” I’ve read a lot about Wilder and “Our Town” over the years, but for whatever reason, I’d never read the play or seen it performed, which is why I put it on my “bucket list” a few years ago. I started reading this classic play during the past week, and I finally finished reading it on Sunday night.
“Our Town,” a three-act play, was originally published in 1938 and is set in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. The play begins in 1901. The second act takes place three years later and the final act is set in 1913. In all three scenes, the reader looks into the everyday lives of a few of the town’s inhabitants.
According to the book’s introduction, the first performance of “Our Town” took place at the McCarter Theatre, Princeton, New Jersey on Jan. 22, 1938. The first New York performance was at the Henry Miller Theater on Feb. 4, 1938. Since then, it’s been performed thousands of times around the world by amateurs and professionals alike.
The main character is arguably the character known as the “Stage Manager,” who is sort of an omniscient narrator who talks to the audience, plays various characters in the play and interacts with some of the other characters at times. Other characters include Frank Gibbs, the town doctor, Charles Webb, the editor of the Grover’s Corners Sentinel, their wives, children and a handful of others.
The edition of the play that I read was the 121-page HarperPerennial softcover edition, which was published in 1998. It was a quick read, and I think I probably spent less than three hours altogether on this book. However, just because it’s a quick read, doesn’t mean it’s not any good.
In fact, it’s not just good, it’s awesome – so awesome that I’d rank it among the greatest works that I’ve ever read. It was also very sad, and I admit that I had a big lump in my throat while reading the final act. I also got a big kick out of the fact that two of my favorite subjects – the Civil War and baseball – also made prominent appearances in “Our Town.”
Of course, now that I’ve read the play, I’m left wanting to see it performed on stage. I also want to watch one of the many TV and motion picture adaptations of the play. The most recent of these looks like a 2003 TV film adaptation of the play in which Paul Newman plays the Stage Manager. Another version that looks interesting is the 1940 film adaptation of the play, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
In the end, how many of you have read “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder? How many of you have seen a stage production of the play? What did you think about them both? Let us know in the comments section below.