Our Town by Thornton Wilder
The subject of Our Town extends far beyond Grover's Corners: the subject is life. Life is traced from childhood to first love, to marriage, and finally to death. The more startling aspect of the play is its form. Wilder was greatly influenced by the German Expressionist School, and his characters are not complex individuals but abstract types. These "types" he tries to hold together by the use of a chorus in the form of the Stage Manager. In addition it is the Stage Manager's job to create the scene and the atmosphere, to invite the co-operation of the audience's imagination, and to move the plot.
To many amateur productions the lack of scenery and the mid-western accent must be major stumbling blocks, and it gave great pleasure to see both of these mastered by an exceptionally fine school production.
Outstanding among the cast were Norman Davis, as the Stage Manager, and Pauline Clark, as Emily Webb. (I understand that Miss Valerie Gray gave an equally fine performance in this part on the Thursday and Saturday evenings). The part of the Stage Manager is probably the most difficult to portray, requiring both apparent ease and the ability to command attention. Davis combined both these qualities with praiseworthy maturity. The other extremely difficult part is that of Emily. The third act is particularly challenging, since Miss Clark has to portray two "characters" at once: the vivacious young Emily who is celebrating her twelfth birthday, and the dead Emily corning back to have another look at life. This exceptionally difficult act was carried off with delicacy and sensitivity by Miss Clark, who well earned her enthusiastic applause.
Both actors were backed up by a fine supporting cast. Anne Waymark gave an intelligent performance as Mrs. Webb, and Mrs. Pat Boulter deserves a special word of praise for standing in at extremely short notice. Praiseworthy performances were given by Joseph Beighton, Richard Telford, and Anthony Ceeney, who portrayed the inherent conceit and diffidence of a "gangling", "gawky" adolescent with great skill.
Among the minor characters mention must be made of the imperturbable Howie Newsome acted with an incredibly natural accent by Colin Martin, who was superbly supported by Mr. Rudkins's Bessie! David Wigston was equally amusing as Professor Willard.
Our Town is a difficult play to perform, and Mr. Croft's production deserves nothing but praise. Thanks must he given to those who put in so much hard work behind the scene and the warm appreciation of their efforts shown by the audience on each occasion was no more than their due.
The lack of scenery and complex characters throw great emphasis on the themes and ideas of Our Town. Any interpretation of these must, in the final count, be subjective. For me, Wilder depicts life as a goldfish in a bowl: it goes round and round and round: "You've got to love life to have life and you've got to have life to love life ... it's what they call a vicious circle."
Footnote: On Thursday and Saturday, the part of Emily Webb was played by Miss Valerie Gray, and that of George Gibbs by John Harrison.