Crosscurrents in the Drama: East and West - Vol. 6

By Stanley Vincent Longman | Go to book overview

Part III: Theatrical Influences between East and West
Enrichment through Borrowings, Appropriations, and Misinterpretations

Thornton Wilder's Minimalist Plays
Mingling Eastern and Western Traditions

Paul Lifton

WHILE HE WAS WORKING on Our Town, Thornton Wilder described the play in a 1937 postcard to a friend as utilizing "the technique of Chinese drama" ( Wilder papers), and the "Chinese" features of the piece did not escape the notice of reviewers of the original production. Several of them compared it to The Yellow Jacket, which had debuted in New York over twenty-five years earlier. Robert Benchley, reviewing the play in The New Yorker on 12 February 1938, compared the Stage Manager to the old Property Man in The Yellow Jacket. He disliked the playwright's use of pantomime, which he regarded as "suited more for charades and other guessing games than for stage plays," and he concluded, "That several of Mr. Wilder's scenes emerge refulgent from all this sign language and wigwagging is a great tribute to his powers as a dramatist. It is all very charming when the Chinese do it, but Mr. Wilder did not write a charming play and we are not Chinese" (26). Many other critics also identified the Stage Man-

____________________
Parts of this article appeared in my 1995; book, "Vast Encylopedia": The Theatre of Thornton Wilder. This article constitutes a further development of points and observations put forth in the book.

-76-

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