Our Town Critical Overview
by Thornton Wilder

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Critical Overview

(Drama for Students)

Our Town's off-Broadway warm-up shows met with cool reception in 1938, but New York critics, spearheaded by Brooks Atkinson, built up a favorable response that was matched by public enthusiasm and a run of 336 performances. It is, without question, the most produced play in American theater. Scarcely a day has passed since its opening in 1938 that Our Town has not been performed somewhere in this country—in productions from professional revivals to community theaters to colleges and high schools. Why? There is no scenery; the actors dress in everyday clothing for the early 1900s; there is no sex or violence; there's not even any harsh language. Yet there is something in this play that draws people to it year after year.

John Mason Brown remarked in his Dramatis Personae: A Retrospective Show that "Mr. Wilder's play involves more than a New England township. It burrows into the essence of the growing-up, the marrying, the living, and the dying of all of us who sit before it and are included by it.... It is not so much of the streets of a New England Town he writes as of the clean white spire which rises above them." This is the kind of play, Brown continued, that "[makes] us weep for our own vanished youth at the same time we are sobbing for the short-lived pleasures and sufferings which we know await our children." Wilder gives his audience precise geographical coordinates, as well as an entire Venn diagram of its imaginary location. But "Mr. Wilder's place is laid in no imaginary place. It becomes a reality in the human heart."

Renowned dramatist Arthur Miller remarked in The Atlantic Monthly that Our Town is a play that is "poetic without verse," and that uses traditional family figures as a prism through which is...

(The entire section is 446 words.)