Sunday, March 8, 2009

Our Town, Our Country

Frank Rich has led two lives at the New York Times. He's currently a current affairs columnist, and before that he was the chief drama critic. (He's had even more jobs outside that paper--he was a movie critic for Time Magazine, and before that for New Times magazine, where he was also an editor: my editor, in fact.) The two roads that diverged in a country wood also met there, and his two lives also occasionally touch in an overt way.

This Sunday was one of those times, when he wrote about Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and our country. He cites two new productions, in Chicago and New York (there was another up in Ashland last season that unfortunately I didn't get to see), and observes: "You can see why there’s a spike in the “Our Town” market. Once again its astringent distillation of life and death in the fictional early-20th-century town of Grover’s Corners, N.H., is desperately needed to help strip away “layers and layers of nonsense” so Americans can remember who we are — and how lost we got in the boom before our bust."

Given the role that theatre plays in this culture, it may take an ex-drama critic to make the connection between new productions of a classic play and how that play resonates and illuminates the moment in a new way. But given the openness that many people in theatre audiences take to the plays they see, I believe this connection is made pretty often by audiences, if not journalists.

I am also delighted that Wilder's play is being revived. Thonrton Wilder has been too easily dismissed for too long. I'd like to see a new production of The Skin of Our Teeth (his other Pulitzer Prize winner) as well. Wilder wrote plays from the 1920s to 1960. He wrote fiction into the 1970s. That's a lot of American history. It's time to see him again, anew.

Here's are reviews of the Chicago production and the New York production of Our Town.

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