Friday, December 18, 2009

New York, Winter 2009 - Day One Two, "Our Town"

I've long believed that a good definition for "art" is " scale." In making art we attempt to expand or compress time or reality -- or both -- in order to make clearer to ourselves and others some aspect of existence. To make some part of the human condition more accessible.

The production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" at the Barrow Street Theater is one of those rare works of art that is scaled just right. Time and reality are expanded and compressed just the right amount in just the right ways to create an experience that is both the epitome of the theatrical experience and something I've never really felt before in a theater. The boundary between audience and players are blurred throughout - and occasionally erased almost completely.

The Stage Manager, played by Jason Butler Harner, speaks directly with the audience in a natural, comfortable way. He looks to us for our opinions, even manages to cast several of the audience in the performance by handing them cards with questions to read. A cast member exiting said "Good evening, Miss Holcombe" to one audience member and "How ya doin' Stew" to another. (Or something along to those lines.) One row of seats can be said to be on stage, even though it's on the exact same level as the next row of seats behind it.

What both director David Cromer (who originated the role of the Stage Manager in this production) and Thorton Wilder have succeeded in doing in this specific instance of art is to remind us of our common humanity. Grover's Corners is, in fact, our town. It is our earth, our existence. It is what we all share -- and it is both mundane and magical, ordinary and awe-inspiring. Often at the same time.

(Regarding the odd title of this post, Day One was cancelled due to food poisoning."

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