“Our Town” is one of those plays that takes you by surprise. I first read it in my master’s program in an “Modern American Drama” class. I had heard of the play but never read it. From the beginning, Wilder establishes that this play is unlike others of its time. The Stagemaster (narrator) constantly breaks the fourth wall but also interacts with the characters in the play. There’s audience participation (they’re plants from the crew) that interact with the narrator. This plus the almost saccrine innocence of the town, Grover’s Corners, creates a unique atmosphere. Oh, and there’s not a lot of props or background scenery. A lot is left to the imagination and relies on the actors’ using their imaginations in their settings.
By the end of the play, the real meaning is revealed. Things get serious as we open on the town graveyard and several of the characters we’ve met in the first two acts now narrate events from their graves. All of the innocence is stripped away and it feels like a real gut-punch. This is one of my favorite moments though as real life contrasts with the innocence of act one. Just like life gets more serious as we age, we also gain the wisdom in order to handle these mature matters.
I enjoy this play and what it represents. I decided to take a chance and teach this to one of my classes. We had just enough space to act it out in my classroom and the students really took to it. Since there aren’t any props or sets it was perfect to act out each class period. And as things get more serious with each act and as the characters age, the students identified this shift and were moved by the end. Each day they were eager to get back into the play, which spoke to my English teacher’s heart. Even if you aren’t a teacher, I would recommend a reading of the play or, at the very least, seeing the play live.