Sunday, November 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 20 (Thornton Wilder)

3 Plays
Wilder, Thornton
3 Plays


Greetings from the new abode. We spent the past week moving from our apartment in New Haven into our latest home in North Haven, CT -- about 8 minutes from the city line. It's on a cul de sac built in 1949 by a group of Yale professors, all of whom were close friends. Apparently they were sitting around after dinner one evening, sipping wine, when someone posed the question, "What would be the ideal community?" The general consensus was that it would contain only one's friends and that each home would be custom-built for the owner.

Thus, they proposed building a community that was a kind of hybrid of an intentional and a gated community. They bought a piece of land and one of the group, an architect named Peter Hale, designed nine or ten homes. All of them are midcentury-style, concrete-slab foundation, one-floor ranch homes built from cinderblock, plywood and luan. It's kind of a groovy little neighborhood. If we stay here long enough, Emily will be able to walk about two hundred feet to get to the elementary school every morning, without ever having to walk on a main road.

Let's hope she gets the chance!

I am writing this morning from the breakfast area overlooking the kitchen. My office is still packed up and there is a ways to go before I get to that. I have two more days worth of easily accessible books. Hopefully, I will be set up by then.

I purchased it at the Fordham University Bookstore for a course called "Modern American Drama."

I feel like I must have read "Our Town" in high school, but it is possible that I didn't read it until I took this course in college. I have a memory of seeing it performed at The Arena Stage in DC with my father, who was an avid theater-goer with a penchant for drama. He came of age in NYC during the latter part of the golden age of drama, when plays by Williams, O'Neill, Miller, et al were still playing their first runs on Broadway. He started taking me to see plays when I was about ten, the first being "Ah Wilderness," by Eugene O'Neill.

The production I saw of "Our Town" took place in the round. All I remember is the image of the two young lovers standing on ladders at the center of the stage, pretending they were talking from house to house through bedroom windows. I always liked this play, but I have a feeling now it might feel a little heavy-handed, especially toward the end when the dead characters muse on how blind we are while we live. I'll bet it sounds a little preachy and sentimental. Nonetheless, I have fond memories of the play, both read and performed.

In an interesting coincidence, this summer, while poking around in Donald Windham's archive, I discovered that Thornton Wilder lived not too far from here, on Deep Woods Drive in Hamden, just a mile or so before the New Haven line, in a very exclusive neighborhood. I haven't ventured up the street yet, but I intend to.

from Our Town

EMILY:
In a loud voice to the stage manager.
I can't. I can't go on. It goes too fast. We don't have time to look at one another.
She breaks down sobbing.
The light dims on the left half of the stage. MRS. WEBB disappears.
I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back--up the hill--to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.
Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by Grover's Corners...Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking...and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.
She looks toward the stage manager and asks abruptly, through her tears:
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?

STAGE MANAGER:
No.

Pause.
The saints and poets, maybe--they do some.

EMILY:
I'm ready to go back.
She returns to her chair besides Mrs. Gibbs.
Pause.

MRS. GIBBS:
Were you happy?

EMILY:
No...I should have listened to you. That's all human beings are! Just blind people.


MRS. GIBBS:
Look it's clearing up. The stars are coming out.

EMILY:

Oh, Mr. Stimson, I should have listened to them.

SIMON STIMSON:
With mounting violence; bitingly.
Yes, now you know. Now you know! That's what it means to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those...of those about you. To spend and waste time as through you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know--that's the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness/


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