Thursday, October 8, 2009

Our Town

Performance Date: 09.30.09

Barrow Street Theatre

It should be said that it is not difficult to make me cry.  I mist up easily and often.  I get verklempt during refrigerator commercials.  I brim over watching flash mobs on YouTube.  And if any actual person so much as catches their throat on an emotional word while I am in their presence, I’m done for.  Once, I scared the bejeezus out of my boyfriend in the car because that ukelele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” came on the radio and I promptly and spontaneously burst into tears.  I mean, weeping, sobbing, snotty tears.  (What can I say?  It’s the song Dr. Greene died listening to on E.R.)  So it’s almost not worth noting that Our Town at the Barrow Theatre made me cry.  I say almost, because while it was unsurprising that I cried, I was very surprised by when.

I should first say that the foundation for tears was laid before I even entered the theater.  I felt a very special anticipation for the play that night.  My friend Kevin felt it too.  In fact, we were so excited – oh boy, the Theater! – that we literally hopped up and down in the lobby waiting to go in.  Yes we are drama school nerds, but word on the street was that this production was good.  And something about believing that this play – a simple classic play written for an empty stage – was going to be done well, got me excited in a very innocent and child-like way.  So when we finally settled in our seats and Kevin, who knows my weepy ways, sang to me under his breath, “You’re gonna crryyyy,” I knew he was right. 

But I thought I’d last more than 6 minutes.  SIX MINUTES, PEOPLE.  That’s gotta be a record, even for me.

So this is the moment I started welling up.  The Stage Manager is laying out the town for the audience, gesturing to various parts of the intimate space and telling them where Main Street lies, and where Mrs. Gibbs’ garden full of corn and peas is, and at one point he says, “We’ve got a factory in our town too – hear it?”  And then he listens.  And we listen.  The ambient rustling of the room quiets.  A collective stillness comes over us.  And we are all sitting there, listening for the factory.  For a good ten seconds.  It was the most pristine, beautiful silence I’d ever heard.  Cue watery eyes. 

It happened again later, when the Stage Manager interrupts his narration to listen for the 5:45 for Boston.  And later again when Mrs. Gibbs tells her husband to come out and smell the heliotrope in the moonlight.  Each time a simple moment of a person sensing, in real time, no rushing.  Each time, I tear up.

Why was I so moved by these moments?  In part it was the simplicity of the action.  How beautiful it can be to simply listen, to smell, to see, and how rarely that seems to happen in modern life.  But I was moved even more so by how well those moments were treated.  How they were given proper time and breath.  And how, in so doing, we as an audience were given space to become complicit in the imagination of the play.  And be united in that complicity.  To listen together, smell together.  Conjure the town of Grover’s Corners together.  It’s one of the most beautiful aspects of Thorton Wilder’s play and yet rarely does it get the kind of follow through it gets in this production. 

The whole thing makes me happy.  Happy that there is theater that makes people hop up and down in the lobby and cry over ten seconds of silence.  Even if it’s only the nerds who do.  Oh boy, the Theater!  I wish all plays did that to me.


  1. dang! that review made ME tear up! well done. love the writing.

  2. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to read this review and to nod along enthusiastically. I saw the production last Sunday night (along with Christopher and our friend Jenni). We had all been eager to see it as we too had heard such wonderful things. What struck me the most was the listening and the commitment to connecting with the audience. And I, who tends to not cry that often, found myself a puddle by the end of the production. My first moment was this – Emily and George sitting atop their respective tables doing homework, George says, “Do you hear the train?” And my hand to God, a subway rumbled underneath us. The entire space rumbled as an audience member, AN AUDIENCE MEMBER, answered him, “Yes!” And the actress playing Emily, nay, EMILY looked at the audience member as if to say, “you hear that too?” Extraordinary. Though by far the biggest pull on my heart was the final act. For the first few moments back from intermission I thought to myself, why do I smell grease? Only to find moments later the breathtaking reveal behind the curtain. The SMELL of cooking bacon took me back so many years to watching my mother cook that I literally lost my breath. Never before has the sense of smell played so importantly in a production for me, maybe ever. A brilliant piece of work. A must see for EVERYONE. I’m STILL getting misty.

  3. Keith, that is incredible about the train! I completely agree that everyone should see this production. It's strange that it should seem so rare, but it does!

  4. It was sooooo good - the bacon made me cry as well!
    -Eddie McGinty

  5. I played the Stage Manager/Store Owner in a small-scale-small-budget school production in 1982. The bits you describe still stay with me as the means by which we familiarized and connected with the audience. Thornton Wilder's simply written masterpiece of a script is full of wonderful intimate moments. There wasn't a dry eye in the house!

  6. Good to hear from you, Richard. The magic of that play is certainly inherent and timeless. Thanks for writing!