On Gathering to Watch by Jean Moore
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
Town Hall, Saturday night, October 15, 2016, 7:00 p.m., Tyringham, MA
It was an unusually warm fall evening, the night we gathered to watch the 1977 television adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, with Hal Holbrook as the Stage Manager. All—the popcorn, the cider, the technical setup—had been arranged by the power behind OT, Tyringham, Ann Gallo and her team of supporters, those who signed on early to be a part of our own site-specific, community-based production of the play, to be performed this coming August.
Residents and visitors in attendance that night, some with pillows and lawn chairs, climbed the stairs, grabbed the popcorn and cider, and settled in to watch the show. Something special happens when people watch a powerful drama together. The Greeks had it down centuries ago, but we moderns—in our digital cocoon—seem to be losing this wondrous communal experience.
Not so this night. Indeed, feelings ran high as the last line was uttered two hours after the play had begun. One or two of us ended the evening a little teary-eyed.
To capture the impact of the experience, the organizers passed out comment cards. Some attendees turned theirs in that night, others days later. All the reflections written on those cards express some felt connection between us in Tyringham and those whose lives we saw portrayed in the film adaptation of Wilder’s play.
One audience member wrote:
There is a piece of me in all of this. I love how Mr. Webb spoke of the subtleties of life: the sun, the birds, the moon. And oh, the cemetery scene, how that pulls at my heartstrings. Death has a way of doing that.
Another wrote of specific parallels between the events of the play and those in the lives of her Tyringham neighbors, the loss of a beloved spouse, taken too young; the rallying of the town to help those in need, to provide aid and comfort. No longer living here, she still considers Tyringham home. And moved by the funeral procession near the play’s end, she wrote:
No matter where a person dies, most want their remains brought back home for eternity.
Another viewer that night wrote:
I think that Thornton Wilder seeks to explore the meaning of being human – without heroes or villains – focusing on traditions of childrearing, marriage, and death. He does not question them, but tries to hold a mirror to them. I think that he finds comfort in the repetition of daily routines, day after day, year after year and generation after generation – The “eternal” of being human…Yes, “Our Town” = Tyringham.
“The eternal of being human,” kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
More than a few of us are eager to learn what lies ahead as we contemplate our own production of Our Town in Tyringham next summer.
Next up: March 25, 2017, 5:00 p.m. Fireside Read-Through of Our Town.