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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Our Town
1938 first edition cover from the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Written byThornton Wilder
  • Stage Manager
  • Mrs. Myrtle Webb
  • Mr. Charles Webb
  • Emily Webb
  • Joe Crowell Jr.
  • Mrs. Julia Gibbs
  • Dr. Frank F. Gibbs
  • Simon Stimson
  • Mrs. Soames
  • George Gibbs
  • Howie Newsome
  • Rebecca Gibbs
  • Wally Webb
  • Professor Willard
  • Woman in the Balcony
  • Man in the Auditorium
  • Lady in the Box
  • Constable Warren
  • Si Crowell
  • Three Baseball Players
  • Sam Craig
  • Joe Stoddard
Date premieredJanuary 22, 1938
Place premieredMcCarter Theatre
Princeton, New Jersey
Original languageEnglish
SubjectLife and death in an American small town
Setting1901 to 1913. Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, near Massachusetts.

Our Town is a three-act play written by American playwright Thornton Wilder in 1938. Described by Edward Albee as "the greatest American play ever written",[1] it presents the fictional American town of Grover's Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.

Wilder uses metatheatrical devices, setting the play in the actual theatre where it is being performed. The main character is the stage manager of the theatre who directly addresses the audience, brings in guest lecturers, fields questions from the audience, and fills in playing some of the roles. The play is performed without a set on a mostly bare stage. With a few exceptions, the actors mime actions without the use of props.

The first performance of Our Town was at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, on January 22, 1938.[2] It went on to success on Broadway and received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and remains popular today with frequent revivals.


Frank Craven as the Stage Manager in the original Broadway production of Our Town (1938)

Act I: Daily Life

The Stage Manager introduces the audience to the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, and the people living there as a morning begins in the year 1901. Joe Crowell delivers the paper to Doc Gibbs, Howie Newsome delivers the milk, and the Webb and Gibbs households send their children (Emily and Wally Webb, George and Rebecca Gibbs) off to school on this beautifully simple morning. Professor Willard speaks to the audience about the history of the town. Editor Webb speaks to the audience about the town's socioeconomic status, political and religious demographics, and the accessibility and proliferation, or lack thereof, of culture and art in Grover's Corners. The Stage Manager leads the audience through a series of pivotal moments throughout the afternoon and evening, revealing the characters' relationships and challenges.

It is at this time when we are introduced to Simon Stimson, an organist and choir director at the Congregational Church. It is learned from Mrs. Louella Soames that Simon Stimson is an alcoholic when she, Mrs. Gibbs, and Mrs. Webb stop on the corner after choir practice and "gossip like a bunch of old hens," according to Doc Gibbs, discussing Simon's alcoholism. It seems to be a well known fact amongst everyone in town that Simon Stimson has a problem with alcohol; all the characters speak to his issue as if they are aware of it and his having "seen a peck of trouble," a phrase repeated by more than one character throughout the show. While the majority of townsfolk choose to "look the other way," including the town policeman, Constable Warren, it is Mrs. Gibbs who takes Simon's struggles with addiction to heart, and has a conversation with her husband, Doc Gibbs, about Simon's drinking.

Underneath a glowing full moon, Act I ends with siblings George and Rebecca, and Emily gazing out of their respective bedroom windows, enjoying the smell of heliotrope in the "wonderful (or terrible) moonlight," with the self-discovery of Emily and George liking each other, and the realization that they are both straining to grow up in their own way.

The audience is dismissed to the first intermission by the Stage Manager who quips, "That's the end of Act I, folks. You can go and smoke, now. Those that smoke."

Act II: Love and Marriage

Three years have passed, and George and Emily prepare to wed. The day is filled with stress. Howie Newsome is delivering milk in the pouring rain while Si Crowell, younger brother of Joe, laments how George's baseball talents will be squandered. George pays an awkward visit to his soon-to-be in-laws. Here, the Stage Manager interrupts the scene and takes the audience back a year, to the end of Emily and George's junior year. Emily confronts George about his pride, and over an ice cream soda, they discuss the future and confess their love for each other. George decides not to go to college, as he had planned, but to work and eventually take over his uncle's farm. In the present, George and Emily say that they are not ready to marry—George to his mother, Emily to her father—but they both calm down and happily go through with the wedding.

Act III: Death and Eternity

Nine years have passed. The Stage Manager, in a lengthy monologue, discusses eternity, focusing attention on the cemetery outside of town and the people who have died since the wedding, including Mrs. Gibbs (pneumonia, while traveling), Wally Webb (burst appendix, while camping), Mrs. Soames, and Simon Stimson (suicide by hanging). Town undertaker Joe Stoddard is introduced, as is a young man named Sam Craig who has returned to Grover's Corners for his cousin's funeral. That cousin is Emily, who died giving birth to her and George's second child. Once the funeral ends, Emily emerges to join the dead. Mrs. Gibbs urges her to forget her life, warning her that being able to see but not interact with her family, all the while knowing what will happen in the future, will cause her too much pain. Ignoring the warnings of Simon, Mrs. Soames, and Mrs. Gibbs, Emily returns to Earth to relive one day, her 12th birthday. She joyfully watches her parents and some of the people of her childhood for the first time in years, but her joy quickly turns to pain as she realizes how little people appreciate the simple joys of life. The memory proves too painful for her and she realizes that every moment of life should be treasured. When she asks the Stage Manager if anyone truly understands the value of life while they live it, he responds, "No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some." Emily returns to her grave next to Mrs. Gibbs and watches impassively as George kneels weeping over her. The Stage Manager concludes the play and wishes the audience a good night.


Primary characters

  • Stage Manager – A narrator, commentator, and guide through Grover's Corners. He joins in the action of the play periodically, as the minister at the wedding, the soda shop owner, a local townsman, etc., and speaks directly to Emily after her death.
  • Emily Webb – One of the main characters; we follow her from a precocious young girl through her wedding to George Gibbs and her early death.
  • George Gibbs – The other main character; the boy next door, a kind but irresponsible teenager who matures over time and becomes a responsible husband, father, and farmer.
  • Frank Gibbs – George's father, the town Doctor.
  • Julia (Hersey) Gibbs –George's mother. She dreams of going to Paris but doesn't get there. She saved $350 for the trip from the sale of an antique furniture piece but willed it to George and Emily. Dies while visiting her daughter in Ohio.
  • Charles Webb – Emily's and Wally's father, Editor of the Grover's Corners Sentinel.
  • Myrtle Webb – Emily's and Wally's mother.

Secondary characters

  • Joe and Si Crowell – Local paperboys. Joe's intelligence earns him a full scholarship to MIT where he graduates at the top of his class. His promise will be cut short on the fields of France during World War I, according to the Stage Manager. Both he and his brother Si hold marriage in high disdain.
  • Simon Stimson – The choir director and church organist. We never learn the specific cause of his alcoholism and suicide, although Joe Stoddard, the undertaker, observes that "He's seen a peck of troubles." He remains bitter and cynical even beyond the grave. Some critics interpret Simon as a closeted homosexual.[3][4]
  • Howie Newsome – The milkman, a fixture of Grover's Corners.
  • Rebecca Gibbs – George's younger sister. Later elopes with a traveling salesman and settles in Ohio.
  • Wallace "Wally" Webb – Emily's younger brother. Died of a burst appendix on a Boy Scout camping trip.
  • Professor Willard – A rather long-winded lecturer.
  • Woman in the Balcony – Attendee of Editor Webb's political and social report – concerned with temperance.
  • Belligerent Man at Back of Auditorium – Attendee of Editor Webb's political and social report – concerned with social justice.
  • Lady in a Box – Attendee of Editor Webb's political and social report – concerned with culture and beauty.
  • Mrs. Louella Soames – A gossipy townswoman and member of the choir.
  • Constable Bill Warren – The policeman.
  • Three Baseball Players – Who mock George at the wedding.
  • Joe Stoddard – The undertaker.
  • Sam Craig – A nephew of Mrs Gibbs who left town to seek his fortune. He came back after 12 years in Buffalo for Emily's funeral.
  • Man from among the Dead
  • Woman from among the Dead
  • Mr. Carter (Dead)
  • Farmer McCarty
  • Bessie – Howie Newsome's horse, visible to the characters, but not the audience.


Wilder began making notes for the play while he was teaching and lecturing in Chicago in the 1930s.[5] Constantly on the move, he worked on the play wherever he went.[6] In June 1937, he stayed in the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, one of the many locations where he worked on the play. It is believed Wilder drafted the entire third act during a visit to Zürich in September 1937, in one day, after a long evening walk in the rain with a friend, author Samuel Morris Steward.[7]

Wilder explained his vision in writing the play:

"Our Town" is not offered as a picture of life in a New Hampshire village or as a speculation about the condition of life after death. . . .It is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our life. I have made the claim as preposterous as possible, for I have set the village against the largest dimension of time and place. The recurrent words in this play (few have noticed it) are "hundreds", "thousands", and "millions".[8]


The play is set in the actual theatre where the play is being performed, but the date is always May 7, 1901. The Stage Manager of the May 7, 1901, production introduces the play-within-the-play, which is set in the fictional community of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. The Stage Manager gives the coordinates of Grover's Corners as 42°40′ North latitude and 70°37′ West longitude. (In the real world, these coordinates are in Massachusetts waters, just over 300 meters off the coast of Rockport.) And at the beginning of Act III, he mentions several real New Hampshire landmarks in the vicinity: Mt. Monadnock and the towns of Jaffrey, Jaffrey Center, Peterborough, and Dublin.


In Wilder's writing of Our Town, he employed a metatheatrical style. He utilized the Stage Manager role to narrate the story and also to appear as several different characters. The Stage Manager, as the play's "Narrator," creates the story's point of view. The Narrator is supernatural as he is entirely aware of his relationship with the audience; as such it allows him freedom to break the fourth wall and address them directly.

The play's stage direction indicates that the play is to be staged and performed with little scenery, no set, and minimal props. Wilder's reasoning was, "...I tried to restore significance to the small details of life by removing the scenery. The spectator through lending his imagination to the action restages it inside his own head. In its healthiest ages, the theatre has always exhibited the least scenery."[9]

Wilder commented on the sparse stage setting:

Each individual assertion to an absolute reality can only be inner, very inner. And here the method of staging finds its justification–in the first two acts there are at least a few chairs and tables; but when Emily revisits the earth and the kitchen to which she descended on her twelfth birthday, the very chairs and table are gone. Our claim, our hope, our despair is in the mind–not in things, not in "scenery". Moliere said that for the theater all he needed was a platform and a passion or two. The climax of this play needs only five square feet of boarding and the passion to know what life means to us.[8]

The characters mime the objects with which they interact. Their surroundings are created only with chairs, tables, staircases, and other mundane objects. For example, the scene in which Emily helps George with his evening homework, conversing through upstairs windows, is often performed with the two actors standing atop separate ladders to represent their neighboring houses.

Wilder called Our Town his favorite out of all his works, but complained that it was rarely done right, insisting that it "should be performed without sentimentality or ponderousness—simply, dryly, and sincerely."[10]

Production history

Frank Craven, Martha Scott and John Craven in the original Broadway production of Our Town (1938)

Our Town was first performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, on January 22, 1938.

It next opened at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston, on January 25, 1938.

The New York City debut of Our Town was on February 4, 1938, at Henry Miller's Theatre and later moved to the Morosco Theatre, where it ran until November 19, 1938; this production was produced and directed by Jed Harris.[11] Wilder received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938 for the work.[12] The Jed Harris production of Our Town was revived at New York City Center on January 10, 1944, running for 24 performances until January 29, with Montgomery Clift as George, Martha Scott as Emily, and Thomas W. Ross as Mr. Webb.[13]

In 1946, the Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin "on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave."[14]

Victor Carin directed a production by the Edinburgh Gateway Company in 1965.[15]

Henry Fonda played the Stage Manager in a production that ran on Broadway from Nov 27 to Dec 27, 1969.[16] Elizabeth Hartman played Emily and Harvey Evans played George. Margaret Hamilton and Ed Begley were in the cast.[17]

A production at New York City's Lincoln Center opened on December 4, 1988, after 27 previews, and ran for 136 performances until April 2, 1989; the cast included Spalding Gray as "Stage Manager," Frances Conroy as Mrs. Gibbs, Penelope Ann Miller as Emily, and Eric Stoltz as George.[18] The production was videotaped for broadcast on PBS (see "Adaptations" below).

In 2003, Paul Newman, marking his final stage performance, acted in the role of Stage Manager, with Jayne Atkinson as Mrs. Gibbs and Jane Curtin as Mrs. Webb, in a production staged at New York City's Booth Theatre. It opened on December 4, 2002, after three previews and ran until January 26, 2003.[19] The production was videotaped for broadcast on Showtime and later on PBS (see "Adaptations" below).[20]

An award-winning revival of Our Town opened at the Barrow Street Theatre, in New York City, on February 26, 2009. The production was directed by David Cromer, who also performed the role of Stage Manager for much of the show's run. Upon closing, the production had played four preview and 644 regular performances, making it the longest-running production of the play in its history. In addition to Cromer, other notable actors who performed in the role of Stage Manager included Helen Hunt, Michael McKean, Jason Butler Harner, Stephen Kunken and Michael Shannon.[21]

In 2017, Tony Award-winning Deaf West Theater, a Los Angeles–based theater company, co-produced with the Pasadena Playhouse a production of Our Town performed in American Sign Language and spoken English.[22]

A new revival directed by Kenny Leon is scheduled to open on Broadway in the fall of 2024.[23] The cast will feature Jim Parsons as Stage Manager, Zoey Deutch as Emily Webb, Katie Holmes as Mrs. Webb, Billy Eugene Jones as Dr. Gibbs, Ephraim Sykes as George Gibbs, Richard Thomas as Mr. Webb, Michelle Wilson as Mrs. Gibbs, Julie Halston as Mrs. Soames, and Donald Webber Jr. as Simon Stimpson. The production is expected to begin previews on September 17 with an opening night planned for October 10 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.[24][25]



Hal Holbrook as the Stage Manager in the 1977 television adaptation.


  1. ^ "Origin Theatrical | Our Town".
  2. ^ "Our Town: A History". Masterpiece Theatre. PBS. Archived from the original on February 21, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  3. ^ "Call for Proposals: 'Queer Readings of Thornton Wilder,'" Thornton Wilder Society, Dec. 1, 2015. Retrieved Aug. 28, 2022.
  4. ^ Elliott Kenneth. "The Outsider: Contextualizing Simon Stimson in Our Town." Thornton Wilder: New Perspectives, edited by Bryer Jackson R., Konkle Lincoln, Northwestern UP, 2013, pp. 121–31.
  5. ^ "Thornton Wilder". Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 13, 2020.
  6. ^ Jones, Chris (December 28, 2012). "Our town was Wilder's town too". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 13, 2020.
  7. ^ Steward, Samuel; Gertrude Stein; Alice B. Toklas (1977). Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas. Houghton Mifflin. p. 32. ISBN 978-0395253403.
  8. ^ a b Wilder, Thornton (March 15, 2007). "Preface to Three Plays: 'Our Town', 'By the Skin of our Teeth', 'The Matchmaker'". Thornton Wilder, Collected Plays and Writings on Theater. p. 686. ISBN 9781598530032. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
  9. ^ Wilder, Thornton (February 13, 1938). "A Preface For "Our Town"". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2021. Mr. Wilder Discusses Such Matters as Realism, Convention, Even Scenery, in Connection With Grover's Corners
  10. ^ "Classic 'Our Town' shines at Portland Center Stage (Review)". September 19, 2015.
  11. ^ "Our Town". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  12. ^ "Pulitzer Prize Winners of 1938". The Pulitzer Prizes. 1938. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  13. ^ "Our Town". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  14. ^ "Play 'Our Town' is Banned in Soviet Berlin Sector", Christian Science Monitor, February 13, 1946, p. 13.
  15. ^ Edinburgh Gateway Company (1965), The Twelve Seasons of the Edinburgh Gateway Company, 1953 - 1965, St. Giles Press, Edinburgh, p. 55
  16. ^ "Our Town (Broadway, August Wilson Theatre, 1969) | Playbill".
  17. ^ "Playbill".
  18. ^ "Our Town: People". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  19. ^ "Our Town: People". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  20. ^ a b Hetrick, Adam (November 3, 2008). "Westport Announces Additional Screenings of Paul Newman Our Town". Playbill. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  21. ^ Hetrick, Adam (September 12, 2010). "David Cromer's Heralded 'Our Town' Ends Off-Broadway Run Sept. 12". Playbill. Archived from the original on September 18, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  22. ^ "Our Town". Pasadena Playhouse.
  23. ^ Cullwell-Block, Logan (October 27, 2023). "Kenny Leon to Helm Broadway Our Town Revival".
  24. ^ Rosky, Nicole. "Jim Parsons, Katie Holmes and More Will Lead Kenny Leon's OUR TOWN Revival". Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  25. ^ Evans, Greg (April 3, 2024). "'Our Town' Broadway Cast To Include Jim Parsons, Katie Holmes, Richard Thomas, Ephraim Sykes, Zoey Deutch & 23 More". Deadline. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  26. ^ "Wilder's Drama 'Our Town' Is Named Pulitzer Winner". The New York Times. May 3, 1938. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  27. ^ Shales, Tom (December 26, 1993). "Ford's 50th anniversary show was milestone of '50s culture". Palm Beach Daily News. p. B3 – via
  28. ^ "Our Town (TV Movie 1977)". IMDb. May 30, 1977.
  29. ^ W. Jones (November 3, 1989). ""Great Performances" Our Town (TV Episode 1989)". IMDb.
  30. ^ "Our Town". American Repertory Ballet. Archived from the original on August 5, 2021. Retrieved February 4, 2021.

Further reading

  • Wilder, Thornton (1938). Our Town: A Play in Three Acts. New York: Coward McCann, Inc. OCLC 773139.
This page was last edited on 31 May 2024, at 16:56
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