Friday, April 8, 2011

Something is Eternal

Our Town (1938)
by Thornton Wilder

Now there are some things we all know, but we don't take'm out and look at'm very often.  We all know that something is eternal.  And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars ... everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.  All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you'd be surprised how people are always losing hold of it.  There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being.

You know as well as I do that the dead don't stay interested in us living people for very long.  Gradually, gradually, they lose hold of the earth ... and the ambitions they had ... and the pleasures they had ... and the things they suffered ... and the people they loved.  They get weaned away from earth - that's the way I put it - weaned away.

And they stay here while the earth part of 'em burns away, burns out; and all that time they slowly get indifferent to what's goin' on in Grover's Corners.  They're waitin'. They're waitin' for something that they feel is comin'.  Something important, and great.  Aren't they waitin' for the eternal part in them to come out clear?

Some of the things they're going to say maybe'll hurt your feelings - but that's the way it is:  mother 'n daughter ... husband 'n wife ... enemy 'n enemy ... money 'n miser ... all those terribly important things kind of grow pale around here.

I directed a high school production of Thornton Wilder's classic drama Our Town nearly ten years ago and performed as Dr. Gibbs about fifteen years ago, and Grover's Corners (the small fictional New Hampshire town where the play is set) is one place I would gladly revisit again and again, as either an actor or a director.

There's a very good reason why Our Town is performed, on average, once a day in the United States ... it is a STUNNING work of American literature.  It is also my favorite play of all time.  The final act of this masterpiece (which begins with the speech above) is one of the most life-changing and life-affirming half-hours ever presented on a stage.

What makes Our Town, or any work, a "classic" is the timelessness of its message.  The events in this small New England town from 1901 to 1913 seem trivial and commonplace, but there is indeed "something eternal" about the final revelation.  However insignificant we may feel as individuals in the grand scheme of things, or however insignificant the moments in our daily lives may seem, we must appreciate and value every instant.  As the protagonist Emily discovers -

I can't.  I can't go on.  It goes so fast.  We don't have time to look at one another.  I didn't realize.  So all that was going on and we never noticed. ... Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.  Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?  Every, every minute?

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