I wrote a little about Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in a prior blog, in connection with a memory of a small moment shared with my mother, far too many years ago. Since then, I found a video of the lovely TV production that introduced me to the play when I was a teenager, back in 1977. Somebody posted it on YouTube, and you can watch it here:
Yes, there was a time when this sort of thing could be broadcast in prime time by a mainstream television network (NBC, as it happened).
Sitting there as a 16-year-old, having never heard a thing about it, I might have been expected to switch over to Charlie’s Angels, or maybe it played opposite the Bionic Woman, or Starsky and Hutch (all of which I watched religiously), but for some reason I was intrigued, and before long I was drawn in. I was pretty much shattered by the end. I suppose there are those who can make it through to the conclusion of Our Town without bursting into tears, but I’ve never been one of them.
One’s first experience of Our Town is apt to be unsettling, even shocking; you have no idea what you’re in for, as the gentleness and poignancy of the first two acts set you up for one of the most pitiless left hooks ever delivered to an unsuspecting audience. You think it’s going to be sweetly nostalgic. It isn’t. You’re sure it’s going to be comforting and sentimental. It isn’t. I’ve read that there are those obtuse enough to think so, but trust me, it isn’t.
Even when you know what’s coming, it’s devastating. It’s also, I think, life-affirming. Even life-changing. In just a couple of hours it teaches you something that you might never otherwise learn, yet need to understand, really know in your bones, and however sad it makes you, it can also prompt you to stand back, now and then, and look around for moment, realizing that all of it is more dear to you than you can ever really appreciate as you go about your ordinary life.
Besides, sometimes you need a good, cathartic cry.