Thornton Wilder in his innovative play Our Town eliminated the fourth wall of the stage and allowed his Stage Manager to directly address the audience. The Stage Manager controls the play through his monologues and interruptions of the characters’ actions.
To show the passing of life, each of the acts identifies a major event in the lives of most people---falling in love, marrying, and dying. Using the barest minimum of props, the author creates an atmosphere of “this could be anywhere.” The descriptions of the town and the local people are meant to represent the oneness of humanity.
The first act presents the details of the play under the watchful eye and voice of the Stage Manager.
- The setting of the play –time of year, the surrounding landscape, the events in history, the historical background
- The introduction of the two primary families---the members of the families, the occupations, the differences between men and women in their thinking
- The minor members of the Dramatis Personae
- The future for some of the characters
- The everyday, ordinary conversations between family members
- The political and religious views of an ordinary town
- The first real encounter of the lovers---Emily and George
- How the day ends for most families
- The relationship between siblings
Through the actions of each of the family members, the day passes. Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs go about their daily chores. In addition, they prepare the breakfast and get their children off to school. Then, they briefly exchange conversations with each other and with their husbands who go off to work.
While the children are away at school, the Stage Manager fills in the details of the town with a scientist; an anthropologist; and Mr. Webb, the editor of the paper.
Emily and George find each other. After their first realization that this is someone that I like, each of them goes home to his/her parents and tries to talk to them about his/her feelings. This was a time before sex or love was discussed with parents and their children. The parents avoid the subject and let the children learn on their own. George is asked by his father to help his mother more. George ashamed of himself agrees.
Mrs. Webb and Mrs. Gibbs attend the choir practice. The women gossip, and the audience learns of the ever present town drunk.
The end of the act comes when the Gibbs' daughter tells about a letter that had been postmarked in an unusual way. The author intends for the audience to understand that this symbolically represents the importance of even a small town in New Hampshire in the big scheme of life:
I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States...Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe; the Mind of God---That’s what it said on the envelope….And the postman brought it just the same.
The first act ends with the audience taking a break while the scenery on the stage is changed since no curtains are used in the play. Now, the audience knows almost everything there is to know about the average American small town around the turn of the twentieth century. The naivety of the people, their values, and the inner workings of an average family---the play brings Our Town, which could have been anywhere in America, to life.