Buddies blogger Johnnie Walker sits down with Our Town director Allyson McMackon to chat about Theatre Rusticle’s interpretation of this modern classic.
Our Town is such a well-known and frequently performed play. Why another production?
I think Our Town suffers from a lot of projection. People “know” the play without having read it or seen it. It’s a vague memory from high school or a community theatre production and it is often relegated to a kind of museum piece, spun as a slice of Americana of perhaps a theatrical version of Frank Capra. It’s performed frequently because we still need to see it and because it remains very relevant. It is about life and death. Wilder says right in the play that the play will show “people a thousand years from now… this is the way were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and dying.”
What new places will this production go?
I hope we take all of us away from “the supposed to be’s” of this play; the Norman Rockwell versions of it. It will take us into the challenges of our daily life: how we define ourselves, how we hide ourselves, how place insists on that, how we let go of our dreams and identity to live acceptable lives. The challenges of marriage: that this exclusively heterosexual paradigm is not enough for anyone. The marriages in this play are not celebratory in our opinion—they are contracts. The challenges of death: death is the biggest place this play takes us as the third act is told by the dead. How close can we get to that?
In 2016, does the world of Our Town even exist anymore?
I think the world of Our Town absolutely exists. Grover’s Corners is just a metaphor, a lens through which we can look at any place that we live and die in. It is peopled by artists trying to find a voice in a place that does not support culture or the arts. It is peopled by a younger generation of women seeking a voice that the society struggles to hear. It is peopled by young men trying to cope with the definitions of manhood that have been placed on them. It is peopled by marginalized people. It is a town of racism, oppression, fear of the new and the outside.
What do you think a physical theatre approach can bring to a canonical text?
For me “physical theatre” should also be all theatre, and it’s not. So I can only speak to our approach, which is not about head work with the play, it is about head work on our feet so that all of the artists can find a very personal truth to their connection to the text and their bodies. This is not to say that we are not interested in the ideas; we are interested in them in motion, not as an intellectual exercise. Theatre is doing, not talking about what its about.
Do you think the experience will be richer for those already familiar with the play?
For the people who know the play, I hope it will offer an alternative. That they are able to see Emily Webb as a real young woman, not some ingénue child-bride. That they are able to see the marginalization Simon Stimson deals with as a result of his sexuality, his artistry, his addiction. That they are able to see the struggle George Gibbs confronts as to what it actually means to be a man. That they are able to see the theatre of the story, the work of making theatre, the heightened experience of our days that goes into that creation.