Our Town by Thornton Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize for the best drama in 1938. The play ranks as a masterpiece in American theater. From the name of the play to the set decorations, this is a play which needs no time frame because it speaks to the human condition.
Several things made this play unique when it was first produced:
- The fourth wall is broken by the Stage Manager.
- The Stage Manager, normally behind the scenes, speaks to the audience and controls the play.
- There are limited set decorations.
- No properties were used by the actors. [Pantomime as well as acting ability was required.]
- Each act represents a phase in an average person’s life.
- The cemetery scene had never been portrayed in the manner shown in Act III.
Nothing unusual happens, yet everything happens that can happen in a person’s life.
Times have changed. The milk is no longer delivered. The doctors do not make house calls. But the human condition never changes. We are born, we dream, we live, we love, and we die.
Attention must be given to the title of the play. The play is not called his town, your town, their town---it is "our" town. It could be Claremore, Oklahoma, or Hope, Arkansas. The things that happen in those towns also occur in "our" town.
In the Stage Manager’s first speech, he provides the minutiae of the start of the play: the name of the play, the date, the place. He informs the audience that this is the beginning of a new day. [A key element since the first act lasts the duration of the day.]
The Stage Manager points out the aspects of Grover’s Corners that assure the audience that this is a small town:
To emphasize the smallness of the town, the Stage Manager can see where everything is located from his strategic spot on stage. He begins by pointing out the primary means of transportation. In those days, every small town depended on the train for mail, food stuffs, and anything else that people wanted to buy.
His next point of reference indicated that the immigrants lived on the other side of the tracks, which would have been a social commentary for the time and place.
Up here is Main Street. Way back
there is the railway station. Polish Town's across the tracks..
Next, in line of priority, the Manager lists all of the churches with only one church per denomination.
He point out only two stores in town: the grocery store and the drug store. Everyone visits those stores every day.
There is one doctor and one newspaper. The children go to the elementary school and on to the high school.
The Manager indicates the gardens of the two key families in the play: the Gibbs and the Webbs. It is their stories and their chldren’s stories that give the play its heart.
According to the Manager, no one famous has ever come from Grover’s Corners. The town’s cemeteries inform historians that the town was founded in the middle of the 17th century. This is typical for a New Hampshire town.
The Stage Manager’s comment summarizes this town and all the little towns in America:
“Nice town, y'know what I mean?"