Our Town…but Wilder
Thornton Wilder’ “Our Town” is given a contemporary reinterpretation updating his quaint view of America.
Thornton Wilder’s Our Town has been an oft-produced staple of theater since its Pulitzer Prize-winning debut in 1938, not the least because of the (seeming) ease of its staging and its very distinct American characters.
Richard Krevolin has written and directed his own variation, Our Town…but Wilder—subtitled A Lamentation for America—turning it into a darkly giddy study of small-town bigotry and stupidity. If nothing else, Krevolin proves how strong Wilder’s exemplar has been.
Whether it’s significant or not, he has switched the location of the play from turn-of-the-century New Hampshire to a fairly contemporary Connecticut. And, now the folksy Stage Manager (Chris Carver, straightforward and vivid) has become a stand-in for the playwright, an angry gay man, a grown-up version of confused, gay seventeen-year-old Bentley (a clear-eyed, strong Ben Elias). They are confronted by a parade of troublesome townspeople.
The play begins amiably enough with the Stage Manager kind of copying Wilder’s character with background information about the play, emphasizing its gay content with a caveat: “My sexuality doesn’t compel me to spend all day hobnobbing about in weiner town.” He reveals a great deal of information about the town, including historical events like the Three Judges who fled England after signing the death warrant for King Charles I and that Eli Whitney, the inventor of the (“non-alcoholic”) cotton gin, had lived there. More interesting is that Thornton Wilder, himself, lived in the town until his death in 1975.
The parade of well-written characters begins. Each provides a piece of the puzzle that is the Stage Manager’s life.
First up is Principal Vestige (a cheerfully bombastic Robert Aloi) who delivers an almost absurdly over-the-top speech, fulminating about gays, Jews, Blacks and any minority that distorts his vision of a perfect community. The Stage Manager makes a few sardonic comments which fly over Vestige’s head.
Next up is the SM’s mother, Mrs. Cramer (Frances Karagio, colorful) who just kvells and kvells about the benefits of being a Jewish mother, bringing up such notable Jews as Woody Allen. She is, it goes without saying, not kvelling about her son’s homosexuality.
As a direct contrast to Mrs. Cramer, the SM brings on Mrs. Molly Ann Treat (Anne Nadell, both creepy and cheery) who is as WASP-ily prejudiced as Mr. Vestige, but even more evil—“Hebrew homo-sexuals!!” she spits out—because she wears her hatefulness under a patina of perfect grooming and great diction.
Then there’s Frankie Katz (Joseph Monseur, animated and well-cast as a brilliant outcast). His turn begins with what is probably a tall tale of sitting next to the captain of the Exxon Valdez which somehow segues into complaining about the gay kid in school (Bentley), but not just the gay kid, but the Jewish gay kid. It seems to be a theme!
Jen der Bender (Caitlin Wells, appropriately sulky), speaks of her gender issues and her tattoos, someone as alienated from this town as Bentley, her best friend. She is the founder of the Don’t Tell Me What to Do With My Body, You Ultra Right Wing Cisgender Male Shmucks non-profit!
Things get complicated over the fate of the theater program at the high school. Bentley relates a sad tale of the drama teacher seducing him and being discovered in flagrante, leading to a frenzy of troubling events which make up the rest of the scenario. Each vivid character turns the details to his or her own benefit.
Even Thornton Wilder and Oscar Wilde (Camber Carpenter) make cameo appearances to express their own very distinctive points of view.
Krevolin is a clever writer, turning Wilder’s American folk tale into a modern comedy/drama with relevance to today’s audiences. Although he often makes his points a bit too obviously with the rantings of the bigots veering too close to cliché, he nimbly juggles the complex inter-relationships.
His staging is simple, helped by Aurora Winger’s lighting. Characters often enter down the aisle as they approach the stage tossing off their lines, cheerfully lit by Winger.
While waiting for the next inevitable production of Wilder’s Our Town, whet your appetite with its modern cousin, Our Town…but Wilder.
Our Town…but Wilder (closed November 13, 2022)
Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: 90 minutes without and intermission
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