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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: March ::
Middle School Drama
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0139  Wednesday, 25 March 2009

[Editor's Note: I think we have had enough of the merits or lack thereof 
regarding Our Town.]

[1]  From:  Geralyn Horton <
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 >
      Date:  Monday, 23 Mar 2009 20:12:19 -0400
      Subj:  Re: SHK 20.0129 Middle School Drama

[2]  From:  Louis Swilley <
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 >
      Date:  Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009 13:59:37 -0700 (PDT)
      Subj:  Please tell us Ms. Brenner is joshing


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Geralyn Horton <
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 >
Date:       Monday, 23 Mar 2009 20:12:19 -0400
Subject: 20.0129 Middle School Drama
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0129 Middle School Drama

 >Evidently I am without the requisite "histrionic sensibility"
 >that would allow me to appreciate "Our Town," a play
 >about two families whose chief concerns are preparing
 >breakfast for their children, getting them off to school,
 >their children's struggle with schoolwork, the local
 >organist's drinking problem...... one might toss in any
 >matter whatever  --  the weather, property taxes,
 >fashionable dress, etc.  --  an endless recitation of
 >further trivia, without losing one iota of whatever
 >dramatic force is contained in the nonsense already
 >present in this argument of this play.

When I was a young and arrogant know-it-all I thought "Our Town" was a 
dull play about exactly the kind of dull people I'd fled my home town 
(pop. 1732) to get away from. Then I was cast as the mother in "The 
Happy Journey" and in the course of rehearsing it I had something like a 
mystical experience.  I felt such love and pity in and for that family, 
for the folks in my boring home town, for every mortal too busy or blind 
to pause and experience that love and pity. I then read all Wilder's 
works: novels, essays, plays --  he was far more of a know-it-all than 
I, or anyone I'm ever likely to know. The "something like a mystical 
experience" that  takes off from the ordinary and returns to the 
ordinary with fresh eyes is an alternative pattern to drama's heroic 
conflicts, but it is, I think, why Aristotle considered drama a subset 
of poetry.

from T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding"

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always --
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)e shall not cease from exploration

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Louis Swilley <
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 >
Date:       Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009 13:59:37 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:    Please tell us Ms. Brenner is joshing

Lynn Brenner <
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 >

 >    Well, Mr. Swilley can certainly give a plot synopsis.
 >
 >            [Thanks. ]
 >
 >I wonder what he makes of 'The Cherry Orchard' and
 >'Long Day's Journey Into Night', two plays in which
 >arguably even less happens than in 'Our Town'.

The psychological aspects of Cherry Orchard and more importantly its 
presentation of the old effete world of the Ravenskys in hopeless 
contest with the new, vibrant (but destructive of human values) world of 
Lopahkin take this play skies above the homey drivel of Our Town. And 
Long Day's Journey's gradual exposure of sickness and scenes of 
lacerating familial hate keep us on the edge of our seats with 
eye-widening recognition of our broken human nature. There is not the 
remotest comparison to be made of this with the plain-vanilla of Our 
Town's soap-opera. (But wait! There is a new production of "Our Town" 
just opened in NY; an actor friend of mine tells me that the play is 
presented as *satire*. This do I long to see, for I think it possible 
that such an interpretation might rescue it. I am promised a luncheon 
with the director shortly and intend to question him on his satirical 
"take" of the play. I'll let you know what I learn.)

His diatribe strongly implies that his acute boredom (and 
'embarrassment'   --   why embarrassment?)

I would expect any *thinking* audience to be embarrassed to witness 
actors attempting to make emotional capital of such questionably 
"critical" issues as getting breakfast, doing schoolwork, etc. are a 
universal audience reaction to the play. Yet he must know that's not the 
case. Perhaps what bothers him is that he's the only one squirming.

'Our Town' has always been a great hit with audiences, who unfailingly 
understand and are moved by its point: Life is brief and miraculous, 
even   --   indeed, especially   --   in the mundane realities that we 
take for granted.

[I have long ago lost hope that popularity with the public constitutes a 
mark of value of anything. The clunky, kewpie-doll  Rolex watch has been 
sold to a public as the ultimate beauty - and they have bought it. Just 
so have they mindlessly celebrated musicals like "Cats" and " Chorus 
Line", the latter with its ugly assumption that the private lives of 
actors and actresses should be stripped and exposed if their 
professional talents are to be judged. That  audiences of this 
grotesquerie do not rise as one and hoot and beat the dickens out of the 
"director" who indulges in such mean interrogations is the measure of 
our loss of values and perspectives.]


Moreover, it is a quintessential piece of theatre, requiring no scenery, 
costumes, or props to create a recognizable world that envelopes its 
audience.

[Well, good for it!  And more plays should be presented so, so that we 
can concentrate on real issues the plays present. We have forgotten 
Aristotle's observation that Spectacle is the least important of all the 
aspects of drama. ]

     It has no bad roles.

[Au contraire. It has no important ones.]

     Far from needing to be 'rescued' by a great director, it's 
virtually actor-and-director-proof.

[Evidently. That is why we are where we are with most productions of 
this work.]

     And a play about the brevity of life gains a measure of poignancy 
when it is performed by 12 and 13 year-olds for an audience of their 
parents and grandparents.

[Remarks about the brevity of life and the failure of all of us to 
notice its particulars occur only at the very end of the play - when the 
audience been burdened with two acts of recitation of life's most boring 
events that are hardly worthy of anyone's observation or remembrance. ]

     What more could one want for a middle school drama department?

[At least a little more, certainly. Even middle-schoolers should not be 
persuaded that the events in Our Town should be remembered. We insult 
their intelligence to do so.]

            Lynn Brenner

            [L. Swilley]


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