Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. Small, rural, out-of-the-way fictional town. 1901 to 1913. Life is pretty much the same for small towns in America. There is no apparent threat of global conflict or war. Such is the setting of Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town.
Received with mixed reviews at its premiere in 1938, but awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Our Town has become one of the most popularly produced plays of the twentieth century. It is quite possible that on almost any given day of the year, somewhere in the world, Our Town is being performed by either a professional company or an amateur troupe of actors.
There are echoes of classic Greek drama: the Stage Manager as Chorus and the three-act structure as trilogy. Like its Greek ancestors, Our Town concerns itself with the continuing cycle of life, humankind's nearest understanding of eternity.
The central values of the play—Christian morality, community, the family, appreciation of everyday pleasures—are traditional. Yet, Wilder's methods of presenting these values on the stage are anything but. No scenery, few props, mimed actions, & dramatis persona who fluidly travels both in and out of the action of the play—all these make for a radically innovative way of presenting a drama. This was certainly a risk at a time when theater productions were known for their lavish costumes and scenery. However, these "experimental techniques" allow the audience to focus on the characters themselves rather than on their location and how they related to objects that surrounded them.
In Our Town, Thornton Wilder artfully manipulates time and place and relates the here-and-now-of a small, New England village to the timeless concerns of all humankind. He builds the action of the play toward the dramatic revelation that human life, however painful, dreary, or inconsequential its daily events, is both a precious gift in its own right as well as a portion of the mysterious plan that rests in the "Mind of God."