“Our Town” begins with an ordinary day on May 7, 1901. The morning newspaper is delivered, the icebox is stocked with fresh milk and breakfast is prepared.
Yet the Thornton Wilder play is not merely about the mundane, simple lives of neighbors Emily Webb and George Gibbs in a New Hampshire village called Grover’s Corners.
“It’s about small life compared with giant things,” says Mark Fossen, director of the Grand Theatre production. “‘Our Town’ is about how our little, tiny lives are part of a much larger universe. And that’s why they are important and that’s whey they need to be celebrated. Every life is important and every moment is important.”
The only American author to win Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and drama, Wilder wrote that “Our Town” is "an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life.”
The circle of life is portrayed in each of the play’s three acts: growing up, adulthood and death. George and Emily’s childhood friendship blossoms into romance, which leads them to marriage. Then Emily looses her life in childbirth.
The beguiling drama comments on both the marvel of everyday existence and the “something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being” — as observed by the character known as the Stage Manager, an omniscient figure who is uniquely in charge of the action and comments upon it.
“Our Town” is one of the best-loved and most-often produced of American plays, “and this familiarity makes it hard to realize what an amazing piece of theater it is,” Fossen says. “It can be easily taken for granted.”
The director recognizes that this great American play — “the most distinctly American play,” as he calls it — does not need a fresh makeover to make it relevant to contemporary audiences.
“My directorial focus is a production that Thornton would appreciate,” he explains. “While I was researching the play and studying the playwright, Thornton felt like a friend, like someone I would like to sit down and spend time with. I’m trying to react to the text as personally and honestly as I can and bring that onto the stage.”
Fossen explains that the broad appeal of “Our Town” attracted the area’s finest talent, from the lead roles to characters in the ensemble.
“I have fantastic actors who can easily play leading roles, who are hugely talented, and playing relatively small roles in Grover’s Corners,” he says. “While so much of the storytelling is about George and Emily and their parents, really the town is the central character in the play. When you have great actors all the way through cast in a cast of 24, and every single one of them is a wonderful actor, it brings so much more life to the town.”
Comparing “Our Town” to Frank Capra's immortal classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Fossen says, “It’s not a play that you can see too many times. You can see ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ a hundred times, and it’s still great. ‘Our Town’ exists in that same place, you can see it again and again and again — yet you will still find something new each time.”
If you go...
What: “Our Town”
Where: The Grand Theatre
When: Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through Feb. 8 with 2 p.m. Saturday matinees Jan. 25, Feb. 1 and 8.
How much: $10-$24
Tickets: 801-957-3322 or the-grand.org