by Thornton Wilder
An American classic, expressing with warmth and humor the eternal truths of human existence. It is a heartening, compassionate glimpse of that time before the Great Wars; before our innocence was lost forever.
From the time of its first performances in 1938, it has continued to be regarded as one of the best representations of life in America and of the richness of our theatre world. For decades it has remained a landmark of theatrical craftsmanship and a loving picture of American life.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Our Town depicts pathos set against a background of centuries of time, social history, and religious ideas. As the Stage Manager who functions as a Greek chorus in the drama says: "This is the way we were in our growing-up and in our marrying and in our doctoring and in our living and in our dying."
Our Town is set in 1901 in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, where the Gibbses and the Webbs are neighbors. During their childhood George Gibbs and Emily Webb are playmates and their lives are inextricably woven together as neighbors' lives are likely to be. But as they grow older they pass into a state of romantic and embarrassing interest in one another. George proposes to Emily in the drug store over an ice cream soda, and they are married with all the good folks of Grover's Corners in attendance. But George and Emily's happiness is short-lived. Emily dies in childbirth and is buried in the town's cemetery on a rainy, dreary day. There she is reunited with those friends and neighbors who have died before her, and who help her acclimate herself to her new existence. In one of the most vital scenes in modern theatre, the peace and quiet of death, which can never be understood by the living, is portrayed.
Our Town is not just about Emily and George and, indeed, is not just about a small town in northern New England a hundred years ago. Our Town is a play about what we and Thornton Wilder thought America and Americans were. As we are about to take a head-long leap into the next century we are forced, not only to look ahead to what we might become, but to turn and look back at what allowed us to arrive at this threshold of the new millennium. The characters in Our Town tell us what they knew of life, its pain and hope; its simplicity and truth. Thornton Wilder believed that life was meaningful only when lived with full awareness of the value of the present moment. For nearly 60 years Our Town has demonstrated to its audiences the peril of not doing exactly that.
Shortly before Wilder's death, The New York Times said:
Wilder's plays are now more than ever in rhythm with our changing habit of theatergoing... He relates the moment to eternity, seeks the infinite in the immediate, finds the universe in each grain of wheat. His plays have not so much been 'revived' over and over again, as they have almost continuously stayed alive among us.