Academic Article (Your Choice)

There are common viewers and readers of Our Town who enjoy it solely for its sentimental feeling of nostalgia, the charming, “folksy” feeling of Grover’s Corners and its inhabitants (Gunn 112). However, public attachment to the play’s physical setting (place AND time) goes against the very purpose of its sparseness, and therefore detracts from the more profound messages the play contains. To eliminate the overbearing sentimentality Our Town has accumulated over the years, director David Cromer did away with historical accuracy and common conventions while staying true to Thornton Wilder’s original intent.

Since Wilder did not intend for the viewers to obsess over the backgrounds for fear they would distract from the timelessness of the story, Cromer took this a step further and removed distraction from the costumes as well. The play intentionally begins without a curtain or a set so that the essence of the town is what matters to the viewers, as opposed to visual scenery. Likewise, the actors mime props instead of using period-accurate objects and furniture. Despite this, many productions costume their actors in period-appropriate dress, so that even though there is no scenery or set, the audience is still presented with an image of the quaint American past. To reverse this dilemma, Cromer staged his actors in modern, ordinary-looking clothes that fit their characters’ personalities without letting the costume overwhelm the character.

Besides the visual aspects of the play, Cromer also took the dialogue itself into consideration. Much of Wilder’s dialogue can be interpreted as sappy or trite if the actors perform it too literally. In Cromer’s version, typically sentimental scenes, like the conversation between George and Emily at the soda fountain in act II, are either understated in their emotionality or reversed from the manner they are usually portrayed. By having a “complicated emotional reaction” between the characters instead of a warm and fuzzy scene, viewers were left with a “rich emotional dissonance and a multiplicity of ideas” to ponder instead of leaving the theatre thinking the story was simple and quaint (Gunn 115). By altering tradition, Cromer actually stayed truer to Wilder’s original intent of Our Town than the more common, easily-expected productions.

 Gunn, Tony. “Grover’s Corners Gets Sexy: The Appealing Dissonance of David Cromer’s Our Town.” Theatre Symposium, vol. 22, no. 1, 2014, pp. 110–120.

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