Customer Reviews: Our Town: A Play in Three Acts (Perennial Classics)
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on May 3, 2001
Through the use of small town characters and the element of simplicity, Thornton Wilder creates universal themes about the cycle of life that reign eternal even today. The play Our Town tells the story of two simple families, the Gibbs and the Webbs, living in the town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. In three acts, Wider journeys through the cycle of life, from the birth of a new life, all way up to the inevitable. Throughout the play, the reader experiences the great milestones in life that they can relate to, such as new life, first love, long lasting love and the effect of death. The last act holds a special significance. In the last act, Wilder uses the theme of death to show the reader how humans fail to "realize life while they live it." Our Town's simplicity also helps it appeal to a multitude of audiences, whether young or old, past or present. From the characters, to the diction, to the set design, Wilder simplifies everything to help the reader better relate to the story. When writing the dialect for the play, Wilder uses typical country vernacular and has the Stage Manager speak directly to the audience, which makes the reader feel apart of the story. Wilder's sets, or lack there of, allow the reader to use their imagination, but not focus so much on scenery that they miss the message. All in all, Our Town by Thornton Wilder is an exceptional play. With this play, Thornton Wilder tries to get us in general not to live life in a blur and to stop and smell the roses. Anyone can appreciate the contents and themes in this play, no mater what age, race, or gender. It is ideal for easy reading and will leave you with a newfound respect for life.
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on May 14, 2000
Thornton Wilder's Our Town is an inspiring play about the joy of life. The play depicts the lives of "ordinary people" in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners. The play is set in three acts, each representing a different aspect of life entitled daily life, love and marriage, and death. Wilder sets the stage with nothing but two tables and chairs in order to establish the universality of the play. From there, you are transported to a world very similar to your own and watch the lives of two families and a town come together through hardships and happiness. Wilder's love for the past shows through as the setting is in the early 1900's. The play continues as the children of the two families grow up and experience all of the joys and sorrows of life. In the third act, the theme of death is prevalent. The third act pulls together the loose ends created in the first two acts in a philosophical way. A passage from the play that really sums up what Wilder was trying to get across is "Do human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?" The characters in the play realize in the end that people rush through life not taking the time to enjoy every minute of it. They don't just stop and look around at the people, at the scenery, and at the world. Wilder's purpose in writing this novel was to inform people of just that, to live each day to the fullest and have no regrets when it's all over and you look back over your life. I recommend this play for anyone who rushes through life without enjoying the simple pleasures. It is short, it reads fast, but most of all, it says something that everyone needs to hear at one point in their life.
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on January 23, 2000
Does Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" refer to the home town of the State Manager and the characters, or does it refer to the home of the audience? I believe it's both.
The play was written in 1938. America was still in the Depression. and people longed for an escape. In the opinion of many film historians, black and white movie-making was at its peak, and its escapes were many. Viewers could see "poor" families who owned two-story houses and had servants; action-adventures heroes who survived cliff-hangers every Saturday; great romances filled with more passion than you could ever see anywhere else; and wartime explosions and gun battles which were still something to flock to on the big screen and avoid in real life. But "Our Town" was none of that. Like the Andy Hardy movie series that began before it and Archie who in comic books was to follow it, ironically in December 1941, it portrayed small town Americana. It was a return to the simple, safe, hometown America that many remembered and no one ever really lived in.
But "Our Town" was also very different. The "realism" that began on stage and then permeated the movie theaters after the experimental days of the pre-Depression wasn't there. The fourth wall had been created, and now was destroyed. Here was a Stage Manager who spoke directly to the audience, skipped through time, told us what had already happened when it would occur years after the scene we were watching, and even brought the dead back to life, at least for a moment.
The form was odd for its time (although in some ways not so different from the presentational, minimal set theatre of Shakespeare's days.) Had the subject matter been two strange people waiting for a no-show Godot, it might have died in obscurity, perhaps to be resurrected years later. But here were characters everyone knew or imagined they did, at least if they were fourth generation Caucasian. Everyone's mother was there, and father, and brother and sister, and milkman and newsboy and boyfriend and girlfriend and husband and wife. In fact, they could see themselves. The characters represented the past everyone imagined they had.
The limited suspension of disbelief required in the first two acts and oddly in the third act still made real one important message: it is the small things in life, the trivial, everyday things that are really important. Ironically, Wilder seemed to argue against his own thesis, showing in the third act how the dead would forget the trivialities and even major events of life and move on. But as we saw when one character relived and then couldn't stand to relive her 12th birthday, the important things in life are a mother's hug, milk delivered to your door, and "food and coffee--and new-ironed dresses and hot baths..." (Act III). As the poet and wise man Solomon said in the biblical book of "Ecclesiastes," power and great wealth are nothing but "vanity" and meaningless, and the important thing is to "eat, drink and be merry."
I believe the theme of the play is best stated in that same scene in Our Town, when the dead character in wonder proclaims, "oh earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you" (ibid). Anyone except "saints and poets maybe" (ibid).
The theme is also reflected in one of the most famous lines spoken in one of the most famous movies of the very next year, the 1939 "Wizard of Oz." After Dorothy flew from her grey home to drop into a wonderful world of color, she returned to find her family, life and farm had really been colorful all along. She learned, and we all felt, that indeed "there's no place like home."
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By most accounts Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) considered himself a teacher rather than a writer--a curious situation given than he won numerous literary awards, including three Pulitzers. Among these prize-winners was OUR TOWN, first staged in 1938. It is generally considered to be the single most famous play written by an American author, and Samuel French Inc., which holds the amateur performance rights, states that it is performed at least once a day somewhere in the world, as popular abroad as at home.

The play is perhaps most widely known for the way in which it is staged. The stage is bare. A few chairs, stools, tables, and ladders are used to indicate a kitchen, a bed room window, a soda fountain, a cemetery and other locations; the actors mime use of imaginary glasses, plates, bowls, satchels, and boxes.

The story is equally simple. The first act introduces us to the town, Grover's Corners in New Hampshire, seen in the early years of the 20th Century--and most particularly to the Gibbs and Webb families, who live next door to each other. The second act finds boy-next-door George and girl-next-door Emily marrying, and a flash-black shows the audience how their romance began. It is a simple tale, full of details of small town life, church choir on Wednesday night, milk delivered fresh each morning, breakfast to be made, chickens to be fed--and slowly, as the action moves forward, we are drawn into this simple way of life and its seemingly endless and trivial repetitions.

Wilder swirls a number of themes throughout the work, themes that are simple yet profound, details of the particular and the universal--and these gather suddenly, unexpectedly in the third and final act, which comes as a shock after the charming ease of the play. Emily has died in childbirth and she takes her place in the cemetery among the dead, all of whom patiently wait and watch for something which is not yet clear, the minutes passing one by one into eternity, their memories of life fading into nothingness, a portrait of darkness that is yet somehow still seeded with light. It is here that Wilder makes his ultimate statement: who are you when you have been shorn of all earthly details and devices? Where do you exist within the mind of God?

Many non-theatre people find playscripts difficult to read, and in truth playscripts are a blueprint for directors and actors and not intended as reading material for the general public. This is preface to the very basic statement that some plays "read" well and some do not--and that this is not necessarily an indication of how the play actually performs. On the page, OUR TOWN reads a bit flat; it seems a shade obvious, a shade ordinary. On the stage, however, it easily one of the most delicately beautiful constructs imaginable, a play which demonstrates the beauty and value of each life--no matter how ordinary it may be. Remarkable stuff and strongly recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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on May 11, 2000
Using the perfect scenario of a small town, Thorton Wilder creates a certain warmth that reflects in each character. Even though the play takes place in the early 1900's in Grover's Corners New Hampshire, it's a classic and practically anyone can relate to it, even if you didn't grow up in a small town. The play takes you through the lives of two All-American families growing up, experiencing love, life, and death. The two families, the Gibbs and the Webbs, live next door to each other and each have a daughter and a son. Through the years two of the children, George Gibbs and Emily Webb, develop an attraction toward each other that later on leads to love and marriage. Most teenagers can somehow relate to George and Emily. George is an All-American boy who plays baseball and struggles with his schoolwork. Emily, on the other hand, is insecure and very bright in school. Together they share a couple of sentimental moments, including a conversation over an ice cream soda. Although the characters of George and Emily are the main focus of the play, Wilder gives great characterizations of the townspeople from the paperboy to the town drunk, Mr. Stimson. Wilder also includes an excellent description of the town, its history, its geography, and its culture. Another theme present in the play that makes it worth reading is the theme of death. Wilder challenges the views of the living to enjoy every precious moment of life and live it to the fullest. All in all, reading the play is good if you want to take time to let the words and meaning of the play sink in. However, seeing the play might bring about a better understanding. If you are the sentimental type and like small town life, I definitely recommend this play. If not, it might be a little boring to you. Over all, it is a good play because of its universal approach to teach an important lesson about life.
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VINE VOICEon April 27, 2001
Our Town is, i would guess, the most produced stage play in america. You need no props,no singing,no dancing.It introduced of place,Grovers Corners,N.H. into the lexicon. The play though first produced in the late 1930's takes place in the early part of the 20th century. It tells the tale of two families, the Gibbs and the webbs,in love life and death{Wilder never skirted the issue of death in his writings>}Its timlessness lies in the essence of wilders writings: how the simple ,the mundane taken together make us who we are, and how important the quotidian chores of daily existence are. The heartfelt exclamtion near the end of the play asking if human beings ever realize thier lives before it ends? followed by the wise narrator's some saints and poets has stayed with me since childhood. An easy read, though not a simple one.Is this the great american play? Who knows.It is certainly great and good,and stands up very well almost 70 years later. Essential reading,on anyones list.
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Little children. I understand how boring you think this is. In written form it seems to ramble and is "much ado about nothing", however be in or see this play and your mind will change. Much of our lives are "much ado about nothing", but that is the point. Get past the nothing and realize that we are interconnected to all other humans. That is the theme. The show asks us to remember the small things - they eventually will have more meaning. Please re-read this book every five to ten years. It will mean more each time. I have performed this show twice - at sixteen (it meant little) and at 29 (it began to make sense). At forty I will hopefully do it again and if my forty something friends and seventy something parents are right - it will just get better the more life experience you gain. Please re-read or see it before you decide it "sucks"
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…When a dog could sleep in the middle of Main Street all day, unmolested.

I’ve read, and even re-read Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. But that is the only one of his that I have actually read, though I had seen “Our Town” produced, yes, in high school. I figured an actual reading of the play was long overdue. Donald Margulies has written one of the best Forwards ever, in terms of “drawing the reader in,” to this play, or any other. “Welcome – or welcome back – to ‘Our Town,’” as he concludes. He commences by indicating the reader’s first exposure was probably in late grade school, or high school, with portions of this play being sandwiched in an anthology with selections from John Steinbeck and Edith Wharton. Our opinions of the play have been shaped from the “school assignment era.” He urges the reader to re-consider now that they are old enough, with actual life experiences, to truly understand the inherent beauty of the play, and I would agree.

The town in question is Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire. It is the turn of the century – the LAST century… 1901. A small town, with a population of only some 2,000 plus. In the play, an additional two are added, since Dr. Gibbs delivered twins. Nominally, it panders to the longing of many an American, for a simpler time in our heritage, before “active shooter drills” became de rigueur. Purportedly there was a spike in productions of this play after 9-11. Occupations that no longer exist are depicted throughout the play: the milkman, the paperboy who walks from house to house, and even the good doctor, who makes house calls. A much more electronically disconnected, measured pace of life… where even the dog could sleep on Main Street.

In reading it though, there is so much more, just below the surface that make the play one that addresses eternal human concerns. The three acts each focus on one key aspect of life: daily life, marriage, and death. Wilder uses the “Stage Manager” as a “Greek Chorus,” omniscient, that informs the audience of the “befores and afters,” in a succinct, crisp, matter-of-fact New England sentence or two. That energetic newspaper boy, for example, would go on to be the town’s most brilliant student, graduating from MIT, but then he “died in France,” during the Great War. Nostalgia for the past is dampened with the knowledge that women would routinely die during child birth during these “simpler times.”

A few of Wilder’s observations on life are worth repeating (and remembering!): “All those good women standing shoulder to shoulder making sure that the knot’s tied in a mighty public way.” On fighting for one’s country: “Over there are some Civil War veterans. Iron flags on the graves…New Hampshire boys… had a notion the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves.” And on fleeting life itself: “You know how it is: you’re twenty-one or twenty-two and you make some decisions; then whisssh! You’re seventy” you’ve been a lawyer for fifty years, and that white-haired lady at your side has eaten over fifty thousand meals with you.”

Oh, and that dog on Main Street, and nostalgia. He could actually sleep there in a prior era… BEFORE 1901, because the pace of life has been picking up, you understand. A good play to read or view, several times in life. 5-stars.
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on March 22, 2004
Like many other people who have read this (and loved it!), it was required. Actually, we were required to watch a filmed stage version of it - starring Paul Newman as the Stage Manager. I found it very difficult to watch. I was, along with many other students, very bored watching that production. So, I decided to just read the play. (Reading the play was not required.) It was nothing short of fantastic and amazing.
I'm not the kind of person who reads plays and enjoys them. But OUR TOWN read almost like a very reader-friendly novel. And its themes of birth, life, and death have a tendency to reach out and grab the reader like few books I have ever come across. I will definitely be reading this again.
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on December 1, 1999
The classic, Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town was written by Thornton Wilder. Our Town takes place in a small town in New Hampshire named Grovers Corner and is set in the early 1900's. This play shows how life really was in the early twienth century. It also shows the trials and tribulations of a small town. Examples of this is Mrs. Webb having to deal with her daughter, Emily, getting married and George dealing with Emily's death. Some descriptions of the characters is that George is a young man who will do anything to accomplish his goals and ambitions. He has alot of goals such as being a farmer and getting married to Emily. Emily is a young woman who is very smart and she tries her hardest at everything she does. Emily seems to be a very nice and open minded person. Dr. Gibbs is a middle aged man who is willing to help anyone and everyone. Dr. Gibbs seems to be a very good man who never takes a break from work and has many ambitions. One part of the play that helps you understand the play is the part of the stagemanager. The stagemanager knows almost everything about the town. He also gives you details of events that happened in the past and what is happening at that moment in the town of Grovers Corners. This book is very easy to understand. You know that Dr. Gibbs is obviously the only doctor in town, that Emily is one of the brightest girls in her class, and that George really likes Emily. While reading it you will really get into the story, and you wont be able to stop reading it. You may even find yourself acting out some of the scenes. This play is classified as a drama as it tells of Emily as a young child, to marriage, and then ultimately to her death. This play is also a drama because it expresses love, happiness, sadness, and even hate. Every act skips a few years to just show how people change, the town changes, and just how life changes. Our Town is really a good piece of work. I believe anyone who reads this book will really enjoy it. Our Town really portrays life as it really is.
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