Our Town (1940, 1977, 1989)
This heartbreaking Thornton Wilder play shows us the pleasures and pains of life in the small New Hampshire town of Grover’s Corners in the early years of the 20th century. The final act of the play is an enlightening look at the resolution of life in death.
Stage Manager: You know as well as I do that the dead don’t stay interested in us living people for very long. Gradually, gradually, they lose hold of the earth … and the ambitions they had … and the pleasures they had … and the things they suffered .. and the people they loved. They get weaned away from earth — that’s the way I put it, — weaned away ….
They’re waitin’. They’re waitin’ for something that they feel is comin’. Something important, and great. Aren’t they waitin’ for the eternal part in them to come out clear?
… mother’n daughter … husband’n wife … enemy’n enemy … money’n miser … all those terribly important things kind of grow pale around here. And what’s left when memory’s gone, and your identity, Mrs. Smith?
How do we get the eternal part in us to come out clear?
I’ve seen all three versions of Our Town. The 1989 version is claimed truest to Wilder’s original stage directions. The 1940 version is a black and white Hollywood movie rather than a stage production. I find it particularly moving, perhaps because it is a double dose of nostalgia: the 1940s waxing nostalgic about the early 20th century. Unfortunately, the ending was changed to a “happily ever after” version for the 1940 movie. You can watch it on YouTube.
Hal Holbrook does a spectacular job as the Stage Manager in the 1977 version. The 1977 version is currently available in its entirety on YouTube.
Our Town: A Play in Three Acts is available on Amazon, if you would like to read the text of the play at your leisure.
Lastly, visit the official Thornton Wilder website for more information about Our Town, Thornton Wilder, and his other works.