This week I was fortunate to attend a performance of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town with a playwright friend visiting from Sydney, who bought tickets to the show on the personal recommendation of none other than Edward Albee. “He’s seen it twice and loved it,” Suzie said. It seemed endorsement enough.
In many respects the play has suffered for its ubiquity – so many American school students are forced to digest the text like cereal and forever associate the play with tedium and the classroom. Its small-town scenario, full of people leading small-town lives, has sometimes led it to gather mould in theatre’s corner, as if it were an old uncle you had to invite to dinner but with whom you had nothing to talk about. Like a secret, Our Town has been hidden in plain sight waiting for an exceptional imagination to draw it once more to our lazy attention. That imagination belongs to director David Cromer, who also plays the pivotal role of Stage Manager in this production. Through his direction the wit, gravitas, terror, love and beauty in the play is unleashed, with a stunning surprise for the audience revealed in the third act. I could barely hold myself together in the final heartbreaking sequence, where the newly deceased Emily is granted her wish to revisit just one ordinary day in her life, and the audience – so close to the actors that those of us in the front rows could reach out and touch them – is unexpectedly transported into another realm altogether, a realm that only the theatre (and only rarely) provides.