Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Our Town

Last Friday I went to the Pegasus Theatre in Oxford to see the Oxford School of Drama's production of Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It's a simple little play set in a small town in the northeast of the United States between 1903 and 1913. The cast is comprised of the host of characters that you might expect to find - a doctor and his wife, the policeman the milkman, the reverend, and the paper boy. Over three acts we see the progression in their lives, from 'Daily Life' to Love and Marriage and, inevitably, 'Life and Death'. These three acts are all narrated by a stage manger.

As an observer I quickly gained an empathy for many of the characters, despite, or maybe because of, their simplicity. In the second act we see the doctor's son George and the neighbour's daughter Emily get married. The wedding itself is a small part of the play for, as the narrator observes that he wants to show us "how this all began this wedding, this plan to spend a lifetime together ... I'm awfully interested in how big things like that begin." Which, to me, is an interesting approach. Kind of like how a series of trickles create the Mississippi. I guess it is like the outcome is not so important, whereas the process is.

The third act has one of the main characters dead, and it is their funeral that the cast attend as the dead look on in from the graveyard. In this act it is the dead that provide the commentary and the living are mere bystanders. It is the dead who understand: "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense .... We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names ... that something has to do with human beings."

The curious thing about the play was that despite it's simplicity (or again, maybe because of - oh dear, repeating myself, now that's not good writing skills...) it lingered in my mind throughout the weekend. It became one of those plays that you felt that you had not so much observed so much as been a part of.

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