Thornton Wilder’s spirit would be pleased with the Chautauqua Theater Company today.
His play, Our Town, has managed to make its way back to Chautauqua audiences, after its last performance in 1997 in the old Normal Hall.
Fast forward 18 years, and the venue is now Bratton Theater, and Our Town opens at 2:15 p.m. Saturday.
Through the three acts of Our Town, Wilder tells the story of Emily and George, two young neighbours who fall in love, in the small town of Grover’s Corners. Wilder takes his audience through time, starting in 1901, when the two characters were school going children and ending in 1913 with a funeral.
The Webb and Gibbs families of Our Town are no strangers to the Chautauquan audiences. The Wilder play was produced in 1939, 1948 and 1966, all under the Cleveland Play House-run Chautauqua Repertory Theatre, said CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch. Those productions were performed in Norton Hall.
“We feel so special to be a part of the continuum,” Benesch said.
It is not just the return of this Wilder classic but also the return of director Paul Mullins, who was last seen in 2010 when he directed CTC’s You Can’t Take It With You, a play, like Our Town, emphasizing the idea of family.
“You Can’t Take It With You was about a nuclear family,” Mullins said. “Our Town is more about a family of a town, a town whirling around each other and what those relationships mean to us and how they give our lives meaning, and hopefully, value.”
Benesch did not want the similarities of Chautauqua and Wilder’s Grover’s Corners to be seen in the play.
“When I asked Paul to direct this, I wanted to do a beautiful rendition of the play but did not want it to look like Chautauqua,” Benesch said. “The play ranges from the minutia of detail to a cosmic scale, so it should be of a global experience.”
CTC’s theme for the season is “Imagination”; coincidentally, that theme also fits with the Institution’s theme from Week One, “21st-Century Literacies: Multiple Ways to Make Sense of the World.”
Benesch said she only realized this connection after reading about Roger Rosenblatt’s Tuesday morning lecture.
“When Roger Rosenblatt spoke about imaginative literacy, it was only then did I realize that our theme of imagination fit with the overall umbrella theme from Week One,” she said. “That just makes it more special.”
Bratton Theater is all set for Saturday’s performance. The space has gone through a transformation, a new “configuration,” Benesch said.
“All the elements are coming together, and it is very rewarding when you know you have picked the right play at the right time with the right artists,” Benesch said. “We are excited to present this gift to the Chautauquan community, and my wish for them is to meet this great classic in the new way that we are presenting.”