Academic journal article TheatreForum

When We Were Young and Beautiful

Academic journal article TheatreForum

When We Were Young and Beautiful

Article excerpt

Privately, I retitled my production of Our Town, "When We Were Young and Beautiful." This wasn't my line but a transposition of Emily's in Act Three: "I can't bear it. They're so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old?" I cast young actors (all under 30) to straddle time. They looked like my parents in those embarrassing home videos we all hide. Young and beautiful indeed, my cast were both their own vivacious Present and ghosts of an unreclaimable Past.

Our Town asks for three different levels of looking. Act One is panoramic, like flying over the town, or standing above a miniature city in a natural history museum. Act Two pulls you down from the sky, ushering you indoors: the Webbs' and Gibbs' kitchens, the soda shop, the church. Act Three pulls you further still, into the ground. The play is a continuous seduction downward, an entreaty to look closer and closer, until you are caught and then compelled to imagine your own end. This was why I seated the audience and The Dead together in Act Three. In over-romanticizing Our Town, we have forgotten the cruelty of its confrontation, the freedom it dangles early and then gradually retracts. This confrontation was critical to Wilder, and site-specific performance offered new possibilities for exploring it.

Of Wilder's many admonishments to the director, I found this one most provocative:

There remain two ways of producing the play. One, with a constant subtle acknowledgement of lights and sound effects; [or] a still bolder acknowledgement of artifice and make-belief: the rooster's crow, the train and factory whistles and school bells frankly man-made.

For Act One and Act Two, I embraced Wilder's second proposal, since I prefer cables undressed anyway. …

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